- Writer Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says veils should be banned in an NHS-wide dress code which applies to people of all religions
- Says there is no place for religious doctrine in state-run hospitals
- Argues there should be no compromise on health standards due to religion
- NHS: Individual hospitals already have carefully worked out policies which balance religious freedom with infection risk and need for communications
- Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, a writer and commentator, argues state-run institutions like hospitals should be free from the doctrine of religion - and says hijabs are a health hazard
Recently, I went to a large NHS teaching hospital in London for a blood test.
A young couple was behind me in the queue.
He was wearing a suit. She was completely covered.
When I was finished and it was their turn, he started getting agitated and spoke loudly at the young man who was due to take blood from his wife.
The husband of the woman in hijab would not let a male doctor take blood. 'I need a woman to do this' he demanded angrily.
There should be an NHS-wide dress code - applying to staff of any religion - that bans veils including hijab and niqab, argues writer and commentator Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. Veils are a health hazard, she said (file photo)
When the male nurse explained that there was no one else to take blood, the husband marched his wife away. There would be no blood test for her that day.
It turned out that the morality council in Saudi Arabia had recently announced that no Muslim woman could go to a hospital without a male relative and woman had to be seen by female doctors.
These doctrines are increasingly be followed to the letter by so-called devout Muslims here too.
We are seeing the rise of Wahhabism, a 19th century Saudi Arabian invention, throughout UK society and now in our state hospitals.
Liberal muslims like myself are furious and helpless to stop this spread.
Doctors and nurses in NHS hospitals are increasingly needing to confront the issue of so-called Islamic modesty code for women head on, either because patients demand it, or their own co-workers make it an issue.
I find that white liberal apologists are becoming complicit in the slow take over of a fascist element with Islam, that seeks to impose its views on the rest of us.
Ms Alibhai-Brown says the lack of NHS-wide ruling on Islamic dress simply causes confusion
There is no NHS-wide ruling on Islamic dress in hospital wards and operating theatres.
At the moment, it is up to individual trusts to decide how they want to negotiate the matter, which just causes confusion in my opinion.
Recently, an NHS consultant anaesthetist was suspended for confronting a Muslim surgeon who refused to remove her hijab for an operation.
The Trust reinstated him when a hospital investigation found he had simply being enforcing the Trust's own strict codes to minimise infection.
It said that religious headscarves are excluded in areas such as the theatre, where they could present a health and cross-infection hazard.
In Cairo in Egypt, the President of Cairo University has expanded his ban on the niqab face covering to all nurses, staff members of the faculty of medicine and female staff in the university's teaching hospitals, citing patient rights to know who is treating them.
I'm not in favour of a hijab ban but rather an NHS-wide dress code which applies to everyone whatever background or religion they come from.
In the medical setting, it is true that there should be no compromise because of health and safety hazards.
Yes, it is important that a patient can see who the face of the person who is treating them.
However, my reason for instituting a dress code would not depend on these arguments, which by definition, allows some room for the idea that religious sentiment should be given any credence in the medical world.
Instead, I say that state run institutions including hospitals in a liberal society should be free from doctrine imposed by one section of society, not matter how intimidating and vocal they are.
We don't have to give reasons.
Wearing veils in hospital - the NHS view
An NHS spokesperson argues hospitals in different areas of the country already have policies in place which carefully balance people's desire to wear veils and the need to prevent infection and allow clear communication between staff and patients
The NHS has a long tradition of balancing patient safety and religious views and practices.
In 2008 there was some debate over new health guidelines introduced to stop the spread of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile.
There is growing discussion on wearing full face veils, such as the burqa and the nijab.
They should not be confused with the hijab which is a headscarf that does not cover the face.
One of the stipulations in the 2008 guidelines was a 'bare below the elbow' dress code policy, which specified that arms should be bare below the elbows in clinical areas to ensure good hand and wrist washing.
Some Muslim doctors strongly objected to this, because it is regarded as immodest in Islam to expose any part of the body except the face and hands.
At the same it was argued that this was a matter of patient safety.
Alder Hey Hospital was one of many hospitals who worked with their staff to find a local solution.
In this case the trust agreed to provide facilities for them to change their outerwear and hijab for theatre scrubs.
The above example is very much in line with the Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) 2013 guidance 'Religion or belief in the workplace: A guide for employers' – which was issued following a landmark European Court of Human Rights case.
The following is a summary of the EHRC guidance:
- Employers needs to consider the cost, disruption and wider impact on business or work if the request is accommodated.
- Employers need to consider whether there are health and safety implications for the proposed change.
- Employers need to consider the disadvantage to the affected employee if the request is refused.
- Employers need to consider the impact of any change on other employees, including on those who have a different religion or belief, or no religion or belief.
- Employers needs to consider the impact of any change on customers or service users, and whether work policies and practices to ensure uniformity and consistency are justifiable.
in the NHS many trusts have already developed policies and practices in consultation with faith groups and staff involving the wearing of the veil.
Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation trust decided that, to ensure effective communication, clothing which covers the face (including a veil or niqab) would not be permitted for any staff in contact with patients, carers or visitors or for staff in other roles where clear face to face communication is essential, for example, training.
At the same time staff who wished to wear a veil when they were not working – such as in breaks, or during their lunch, or walking around the buildings were allowed to do so.
However they were asked to be prepared to remove their veil if asked to check their identity against their ID badge, in line with the guidance drawn up last year.
Similarly The Royal London Hospital, St Bartholomew's Hospital and Whipps Cross University Hospital, have policies that indicate that faces must not be covered while staff are treating patients.
In addition Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS trust, have policies in place outlining that face coverings should not be worn when delivering patient care in order to aid communication and minimise infection risks.
These cases illustrate that employers and employees have been able to find solutions to managing religious issues relating to the wearing of the veil in the workplace locally.
The NHS has indicated that a general applicable ban on the wearing of full face veils in the workplace is not necessary or proportionate for any legitimate objective.
At the same time it has recognised through consultation with parties that some clearly defined restrictions on the wearing of full face veils for the purposes of public safety will be legitimate.
In doing so professional standards have been maintained and hospitals have developed appropriate policies and practices in a way that is most appropriate for them to deliver a quality service.