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Health review of full-face veils launched


A review is being launched into health service guidelines on full-face veils to ensure that patients always have “appropriate face to face contact”, it has emerged.

Health minister Dan Poulter claimed that face coverings can be a barrier to good communication between health care 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 health care workforce and support appropriate religious and cultural freedoms, but a vital part of good patient care is effective verbal and non-verbal communication,” Dr Poulter told The Daily Telegraph.

“Being unable to see a health care 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 health care 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 health care 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.

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 will 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.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had a “great deal of sympathy” for patients who do not want to be treated by a doctor or nurse wearing a veil but insisted the matter was one for individual hospitals and professionals.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It’s a local matter. We very strongly support the autonomy of hospitals to make these decisions and implement policies in a way that is right in their area.

“But it’s also important that there is the right amount of face contact between clinicians and people they are looking after and that’s why Dr Daniel Poulter, one of my ministers, has written to the General Medical Council to make sure there are national guidelines in place.

“But how those guidelines are implemented has to be a local matter.”

Asked whether patients have the right to demand not to be treated by a doctor or nurse wearing a veil, Mr Hunt said: “They have the right to say that and I have a great deal of sympathy for that but I do think this should be a professional matter and not a political matter and that’s why I think the people who should be pronouncing on this are the body responsible for professional standards and not the politicians.”

Professor Carol Baxter, head of equality, diversity and human rights at NHS Employers, said: “Valuing diversity is one of the core values of the NHS - our staff come from all backgrounds as do our patients.

“However, to ensure the highest level of care is delivered, it is paramount that there are no barriers to effective communication between staff and patients.

“NHS organisations have a duty to determine appropriate dress for staff, depending on their role and the tasks they perform,” she said.

“Some would welcome guidance on this sensitive issue, which is why NHS Employers is very happy to work with the regulators to share the employers’ perspective and good practice on this topic.”



We will be hosting a #NTtwitchat special on this story at 3.30pm today (20 September). To join in - search for #NTtwitchat on twitter and use this hastag n your tweets so they appear in this feed.


Readers' comments (16)

  • Black (masked) sacks should not be masquerading as health care professionals.

    Last time I looked the UK was still a secular country !

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  • Many Muslim nurses where I work. They wear white "trouser suit" uniforms together with white headscarf.

    No hidden faces

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  • How big an issue is this? In 32 years working in the NHS, I have never come across a health professional wearing a face covering (except surgical masks when appropriate) when at work.

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  • how many staff in the health service wear full veils?
    how many patients wear full veils? - are they going to be stopped too?
    what is this really about, is it that much of an issue?
    what about safe staffing levels, skill mix, patients being left without care?

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  • Since when do health care professionals wear full face veils?

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  • I really do not understand how this has received such media attention. I reckon its a case of islamophobia and its painful to observe. I have never encountered any health care professionals who wear the full veil in practice. I suspect the numbers are few and far between and ,in any case, should be managed locally. No doubt ,this may be seen an oppressive practice which will lead to more and more numbers wearing the veil. However, Communication and Infection Control would be concerns on my part.

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  • I was about to write agreeing with many of the comments above and I think I do still agree with them. However, I then stopped to ask myself, with regards to infection control, where is the evidence and also, how do they manage this 'risk' in countries where the face veil is the norm?

    I'm going to assume that the communication between care professional and patient in Muslim countries is less of an issue because it is a more natural part of their common culture.

    I'm trying to be careful with my words here, because I'm not anti-Muslim or anti any religion/person, but the bottom line is that whilst we may be fairly multi-cultural these days, the UK is not essentially a Muslim culture and therefore we must also protect our core culture whilst being accepting of the culture of others who make their lives here.

    A tricky balance and therefore one that needs to (as far as possible), be grounded in the evidence.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Sep-2013 10:55 am

    you make good points but I think the different arguments against the wearing of a veil need to be perfectly clear to avoid confusing all of the issues.

    the main ones here seem to be those which could have a direct impact on patient care, namely
    communication and, more questionably as some suggest, hygiene. there are other objections, some on a more personal level, many individuals may come up with but on which not everybody may agree.

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  • I agree with the above. Banning the wearing of face veils in healthcare is not about islamophobia. Wearing face veils efffects communuication with staff and patients as well as infection control. Anyone that works in healthcare spend a huge amount of time communicating. Even when staff wear face masks in theatre it is difficult to hear clearly sometime.I have never come across a fellow health worker wearing a face veil but I am sure there there is the potential for this to happen. Whilst it is important for one to hold on to their identity the patients needs come first. I really don't know why there is such a fuss about it, this is common sense.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Sep-2013 2:39 pm

    I think what comes out of your comment and mine is, to be fair to everybody concerned,that there need to be very clear rules laid down right across the NHS so that everybody knows exactly where they stand, and if possible when people first seek employment so that there are no misunderstandings and feelings of discrimination.

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  • What people practice in other countries has no bearing here, neither how they choose to practice their health care or decide what to wear.

    About 15 years ago a muslim nurse was employed to work in high dependency ward in my local trust, who wanted to wear the niqab. She wore a white head covering with white facial veil. One of the elderly patients was surprised on waking to find her leaning over her bed, and, thinking that she had died became very distressed. As the patient was very hard of hearing was unable to hear her voice behind the veil, even though the nurse concerned was attempting to reassure the patient. I don't know whether the nurse removed her veil or whether she left her job, but I never saw her again. No other nurse or other health professional to my knowledge has ever worn the niqab since in my local trust.

    It is not appropriate for the niqab to be worn in a profession where facial communication is essential.

    It is not Islamophobic to require health professionals to be able to communicate fully, including all facial expressions as well as voice, to the public that are paying their wages. I would not expect to walk around in a bikini in Saudi Arabia; or any other country that would require me to dress modestly, neither would I expect to drink alcohol. Likewise, I would expect any publicly paid professional to dress in accordance with what is expected in their culture.

    Anyone wanting to walk down the high street in a full facial veil has the freedom to do this; as I reserve the right to wear a mickey mouse costume should I so desire, but I would be expect to be sent home if I wore it to work.

    We are not a muslim country, but a secular country, and this should be respected by people who want to come to live and work here. .

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  • shouldn't be a question of when in Rome ... ?

    Whether, visiting, living or working in a country shouldn't people still be expected to obey the rules and laws both written and unwritten of that country and not stick rigidly to those of their own at any price?

    If a person wants a job, shouldn't they obey the employer's policies and shouldn't that be the agreement when accepting employment and signing the contract as well as part of the psychological contract existing between both parties which also has relevance and importance?

    As a guest in somebody else's home most usually try to adapt and follow the rules of the house and of the hosts and hostesses to avoid offence or conflict. Shouldn't these same rules apply everywhere else as well?

    Is it up to the individual who goes anywhere to adapt to local rules and policies rather than expect everybody else to change and adapt to those of one individual or of a minority?

    It seems that obeying these rules and laws would help avoid many problems for all concerned and especially in healthcare and other areas where the well-being and safety of patients and/or the public is concerned.

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  • Although I accept others cultural beliefs, and have friends who cross all boundaries, I cannot accept the wearing of a veil. The NHs has to be fair to all employees. Nurses have been sacked for wearing a crucifix necklace , on the grounds of health and safety, although many staff walk around with keys or ID hanging round their necks, which could also be health and safety hazard! . Some cultures are permitted to wear their own headdresses, even these can be large and cause some problems. Some staff members are allowed privileges when fasting. We have to be fair to all religions , but I agree with the comments raised by others, it is not the custom in the UK. Out of curiosity, I wonder what comments would be raised if a Scotsman wore a kilt to work?

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  • Anonymous | 22-Sep-2013 10:51 pm

    "I wonder what comments would be raised if a Scotsman wore a kilt to work?"

    I love it!

    Of course there would have to be a full review and debate about whether everybody agrees with the fact that this form of dress is to be worn by males only and with nothing underneath the kilt!


    talking of which, with so much debate about the veil, why not make one rule right across the NHS or even across the UK or the whole of Europe, to simplify matters for all concerned?

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  • "I wonder what comments would be raised if a Scotsman wore a kilt to work?"

    Eh....some do.

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  • How many of you have come across a healthcare profession wearing a veil across their face? :/

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