Hewitt criticised for casting doubt on Muslim GPs’ ethics

Patricia HewittThe health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, has been criticised for suggesting that some Muslim GPs fail to respect the confidentiality of Muslim women who visit them.

Ms Hewitt said women feared talking about issues such as domestic violence and sexual health problems in case their details were shared among “close-knit” communities. A report in GPs’ magazine Pulse said Ms Hewitt had first raised the issue in a lecture to the Fabian Society in London.

In an interview with Pulse, she expanded on her comments, saying: “I have had Muslim women give me chapter and verse on very distressing breaches of confidentiality by Muslim GPs. Some women patients feel they cannot trust their own GP, who knows the patient’s extended families. If they go and talk to him about a very difficult situation concerning domestic violence or sexual health problems, they fear that he will share that with other members of the community. They are very close-knit communities.”

Jo Haynes, editor of Pulse, said: “These are serious accusations – failing to respect a patient’s confidentiality is a severe breach of a doctor’s code of conduct. It is generally something that happens very rarely. You would hope Patricia Hewitt has some firm evidence to back up her decision to single out Muslim doctors in this way. It’s worth bearing in mind that Muslims are hardly alone in living in close-knit communities, and doctors are generally very good at separating their personal and professional lives.”

Press Association, 28 March 2007