‘CAN you prove that offering to pray for patients causes no harm?’
This was in effect the question put to the highly experienced Christian GP Richard Scott by an NHS England disciplinary panel last year.
In the hearing, Dr Scott had already pointed to evidence that faith-based adjuncts to conventional care are overwhelmingly positive. He cited not only his own book detailing his journey with cancer but also an OUP book called The Handbook of Religion and Health which showed that 81 per cent of religious interventions had a good outcome.
The General Medical Council (GMC) itself had already cleared Dr Scott of alleged wrongdoing.
Nevertheless, the panel doubled down, insisting Dr Scott went on an expensive three-day course on professional boundaries usually undertaken by those who have inappropriately touched a patient or crossed sexual boundaries, and undergo a psychological assessment.
Last week, with our help at the Christian Legal Centre, Dr Scott challenged these impositions. Included in papers was an expert report from Dr Harold Koenig, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, outlining in astonishing detail how prayer can supplement standard medical interventions.
NHS England backed down. Neither party admitted wrongdoing, but don’t be fooled by the spin of secularists who had instigated this witch-hunt against Dr Scott. The one-day course Dr Scott agreed to attend was one he had already proposed as an olive branch early in the proceedings; he could count it as Continuing Professional Development.
It was NHS England lawyers who conceded that Dr Scott was able to continue praying in line with GMC guidance.
Dr Scott’s stand, backed by our support, shows that Christians who act faithfully and responsibly as Christians in the workplace can successfully challenge such overbearing procedures. It takes courage, it takes expertise and it takes financial support but we can carve out space for Christians to be Christians.
But we must ask ourselves how got here.
NHS England told Dr Richard Scott to prove that his actions weren’t harmful. They gave no evidence to suggest that his practice was harmful, the burden of proof was on him to prove that it wasn’t.
Dr Scott had witnessed a great number of benefits from spiritual interventions in his own life and the lives of patients. He has seen how patients who have struggled with medical conditions for long periods have found significant benefit from a broader, holistic approach, including the offer of prayer. He knew the evidence backed him up.
NHS England, however, asserted the possibility of harm without providing evidence. Of course, there’s always the possibility that simply raising the option of discussing spiritual care might offend a patient. There’s also the possibility that not mentioning it might fail to give them the very thing they really need.
Had Dr Scott suggested mindfulness, a practice rooted in Buddhism and currently in vogue in all self-help manuals, neither the National Secular Society nor NHS England would have had a word of criticism of him. But because he was Christian, Dr Scott had to prove he wasn’t causing harm.
This is one example of a much wider trend. It’s not popular to point out that Christianity is singled out for this kind of aggressive treatment but it’s true.
Look at how quickly Trent College and the secularists in the Church of England Diocese of Derby treated school chaplain Bernard Randall as a safeguarding risk to children. He had given an extraordinarily generous and moderate sermon encouraging pupils that they shouldn’t feel forced to go along with other people’s ideology and that they were free to uphold the biblical position on marriage. Treating this in any way as a safeguarding matter is absurd and obscene and could only be imagined in a society riddled with inexplicable hatred and opposition to Christianity – by which I mean the Christianity that Jesus and his apostles lived and died for.
Private, consensual prayer for people with gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction is likewise branded harmful, again without evidence and contrary to a great many people’s experience.
The European Convention on Human Rights, which is enshrined in our Human Rights Act, is used wrongly by governments to override basic freedoms ‘for the protection of health’. Article 8 (the right to respect for private and family life), Article 9 (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) and Article 10 (freedom of expression) all contain this overused caveat.
The persistent branding of basic Christian beliefs and actions as harmful, even immoral, is an extremely useful step for those who are opposed to Christians because it bolsters governments who would like to crack down on those basic freedoms.
Any other group whose beliefs and practices were routinely treated like this would be shouting from the rooftops that its opponents are phobic and bigoted. Christians may seek to turn the other cheek or they may, like the Apostle Paul, stand up for their rights.
But let’s at least recognise that there are people striking us on the cheek.