Muslim Medics in Alder Hey Stand-Off

Caroline Innes, Liverpool Echo, February 26, 2008

HEALTH officials are having crisis talks with Muslim medical staff who have objected to hospital hygiene rules because of religious beliefs.

Women students at Liverpool’s Alder Hey children’s hospital have raised objections to removing their arm coverings in theatre and to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands because it is regarded as immodest.

Minutes of a clinical academics’ meeting at Liverpool University revealed that female Muslim students at Alder Hey children’s hospital had objected to rolling up their sleeves to wear gowns.

Similar concerns have been raised at Leicester University, and Sheffield University also reported a case of a Muslim medic who refused to “scrub” as this left her forearms exposed.

Some students have said that they would prefer to quit the course rather than expose their arms, but hygiene experts said no exceptions should be made on religious grounds.

A Royal Liverpool hospital spokesman said they had experienced issues of Muslim staff not sanitising their forearms with alcohol gel although this had now been addressed.

Dr Steve Ryan, medical director at Alder Hey said that while the “bare below the elbows” dress code is a matter of patient safety, the trust would work with Muslim students to find a solution.

He said: “We specify bare below elbows, no wrist watches, nail varnish or false nails in clinical areas.

“Good hand hygiene is one of the most important and simplest actions we can take to prevent healthcare associated infections.

“A number of female Muslim students had approached the University of Liverpool to ask if we would provide facilities for them to change their outerwear and Hijab for theatre scrubs.

“We were pleased to accommodate this request and these facilities have now been incorporated.”

Dr Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP and former hospital consultant, said: “These students are being trained using taxpayers’ money and they have a duty of care to their patients not to put their health at risk.

“Perhaps these women should not be choosing medicine as a career if they feel unable to abide by the guidelines everyone else has to follow.”

But the Islamic Medical Association insisted that covering all the body in public, except the face and hands, was a basic tenet of Islam.

It said: “No practising Muslim woman—doctor, medical student, nurse or patient—should be forced to bare her arms below the elbow.”

New rules for doctors

NEW Department of Health guidance introduced this month stipulates all doctors must be “bare below the elbow”.

The measure is deemed necessary to stop the spread of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile (C.difficile), which have claimed the lives of hundreds.

Included in the rules are further infection control measures such as a ban on wrist watches, nail varnish, jewellery and false nails in clinical areas.

The code of practice will help NHS bodies to plan and implement how they can prevent and control healthcare-associated infections. It sets out criteria by which managers of NHS organisations are to ensure that patients are cared for in a clean environment and the risk of infections is kept as low as possible.

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