Health minister Dan Poulter claims face coverings can be a barrier to good communication between healthcare professionals and patients. He has ordered a review of current advice and asked regulators to devise new uniform rules.
“I am proud of the rich ethnic diversity of our healthcare workforce and support appropriate religious and cultural freedoms, but a vital part of good patient care is effective verbal and non-verbal communication,” Poulter told the Daily Telegraph.
“Being unable to see a healthcare professional’s face can be a barrier to good and empathetic communication with patients and their families. That is why I am writing to all healthcare regulators to ask them to look into this matter and to review their professional regulations, to ensure that there is always appropriate face-to-face contact between healthcare professionals and their patients.”
A ban on staff wearing the full-face veil when dealing with patients has already been introduced at 17 NHS hospitals, according to the newspaper.
The home secretary, Theresa May, insisted it is for women to make a choice about what clothes they wear, including veils, but said there will be some circumstances when it will be necessary to ask for them to be removed.
Earlier this week a judge ruled that a Muslim woman would be allowed to stand trial while wearing a full-face veil but must remove it while giving evidence.
The ruling followed calls by Home Office minister Jeremy Browne for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them.
Update: See “Doctors should decide on veils… but I want to see nurses faces, says health secretary Jeremy Hunt”, Evening Standard, 19 September 2013
Update 2: Huffington Post UK’s political director Mehdi Hasan expresses scepticism about the relevance of the review of NHS policy: