AFP, September 5, 2006
London — A hospital in northwest England has introduced a new surgical gown modeled on the burqa, allowing female Muslim patients to cover themselves completely in line with their religious beliefs.
The blue “Inter-Faith Gown” is the first of its type in Britain and has been trialed at the Royal Preston Hospital. It will be available to those who want it from November 1.
Hospital bosses said that the gown — which covers the entire body from head to toe — provides extra comfort and cover for patients undergoing medical procedures and whose culture or religion requires more modest attire.
They described the response from patients as “overwhelming” and said that it had attracted interest from a number of other hospitals around the country.
The Daily Express featured the new gown on its front-page Tuesday. But the right-of-center newspaper was critical, arguing that the gown’s introduction was an example of “political correctness” and skewed priorities.
It added in an editorial that it was tantamount to special treatment for one group of people.
“If people want to live in Britain, then they must accept British standards and the British way of life . . . The standard hospital gown is surely good enough for everyone.”
The paper reported that the gowns cost £12 ($23) each.
This is the latest look coming to our NHS hospitals — a burka-style gown for patients.
Instead of standard issue clothing, women who want to cover up because of their faith are to be offered the striking turquoise garment.
Although welcomed by doctors as a breakthrough to encourage Muslim women to seek treatment, critics last night said the move was “another example of political correctness”.
The “Inter-faith gown” is being piloted at Royal Preston Hospital after complaints from women that regulation dress was too revealing. Hospitals across the country are also being offered the £12 burkas by an NHS clothing supplier. Doctors say that many women do not show up for vital operations because they fear the procedure will mean them breaking strict Islamic law.
The hooded “Inter-faith gown” is designed to reveal nothing but the patients’ eyes and hands and yet allow access for surgeons.
Last night Conservative MP Philip Davies, who has campaigned against political correctness, said the dress would stir up resentment on wards because patients would believe others were getting special treatment.
“This may be viewed as a reasonable request from one particular group of patients but what I would like to ask is where does that request lie in a hospital’s priorities?” he said. “It is another example of political correctness because it is the sort of thing that has been brought in because the words ‘faith’ and ‘race’ have been mentioned.
“The average patient on a ward will look at this and be resentful because they will say to themselves: ‘This has been brought in because it is a Muslim request’.
“They themselves may have other requests, like more visiting hours, more flexible meal times or a brighter lamp for their bedside table, but they know they’ve got less chance of achieving this. A burka-style hospital gown is only high on the priority list because of the politically correct world we live in.”
The gown was devised by Karen Jacob, the linen services manager for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust which runs Royal Preston Hospital. Leeds-based company Interweave Textiles has taken on her design, offering the gowns on a free trial in Preston.
Bosses say the response has been “overwhelming” and they expect other trusts to buy them so they can offer the option to Muslims. The price will be £240 for a batch of 20 garments. It marks the first change from the regulation gown seen on wards for decades.
A spokesman for Lancashire Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust said: “It has been brought in because some ladies simply felt they could not wear the normal gown which, as we all know, can show parts of us we do not want on show.
“Muslim patients have given us very good feedback and our doctors are also happy because it means they are helping and improving the health of patients who they would not normally see.
“We have had examples of people not showing up for surgeries or operations. This can only help.
“As we have come up with the idea, we will work in partnership with the textile company to sell the gown to other NHS trusts and then share profits.”
Inventor Ms Jacob added: “I noticed a gap in the market and thought that it would be great if there was a gown that helped to preserve a patient’s modesty.”
The burka is the latest move to stir debate on priorities in the hard-pressed NHS. Health bosses in Wigan spent £700,000 on motivational speakers to inspire unhealthy patients to improve their diet — while cutting beds because of debts.
Heywood and Middleton Primary Care Trust in Greater Manchester paid out £2,500 for a sex-change sailor to have his tattoos removed so he could feel “more feminine”.