Muslim doctors and nurses are to be allowed to opt out of strict hygiene rules introduced by the NHS to restrict the spread of hospital superbugs.
Female staff who follow the Islamic faith will be allowed to cover their arms to preserve their modesty despite earlier guidance that all staff should be “bare below the elbow”.
The Department of Health has also relaxed rules prohibiting jewellery so that Sikh members of staff can wear bangles linked with their faith, providing they are pushed up the arm while the medic treats a patient.
The Mail on Sunday reported the change had been made after female Muslims objected to being required to expose their arm below the elbow under guidance introduced by Alan Johnson when he was health secretary in 2007.
The rules were drawn up to reduce the number of patients who were falling ill, and even dying, from superbugs such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
Revised guidance which relaxed the requirements for some religions was published last month.
Some Muslim staff and those from other groups may be allowed to use disposable plastic over-sleeves which cover their clothes below the elbow and allow the skin to remain covered up.
Derek Butler, chairman of MRSA Action UK, said: “My worry is that allowing some medics to use disposable sleeves you compromise patient safety because unless you change the sleeves between each patient, you spread bacteria.
“Scrubbing bare arms is far more effective.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The guidance is intended to provide direction to services in how they can balance infection control measures with cultural beliefs without compromising patient safety.”