Christian GP ‘over-stepped boundaries’ by praying with patient, tribunal rules

Former missionary Dr Richard Scott was found guilty of misconduct.

Pat Hurst
Monday 04 September 2023 15:03 BST

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A Christian doctor “overstepped the boundaries” while talking about religion and praying with a patient but is not guilty of serious misconduct, medical watchdogs have ruled.

Dr Richard Scott, a medic since 1983, began discussing religion to his vulnerable patient, including talking about his own faith, before clasping his patient’s hands in prayer, a fitness to practise tribunal of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal Service (MPTS) found.

The medic, who ran two mission hospitals in Tanzania before becoming a GP, also gave the patient a Bible on leaving the practice, the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, Kent.

The patient, identified only as patient B, a 19-year-old man with a history of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, was suffering with poor mental health when he went to see Dr Scott on August 25 last year, accompanied by his mother, the tribunal sitting in Manchester heard.

It concluded that, although this amounted to misconduct, Dr Scott’s actions did not cross the high threshold required to be considered serious misconduct

Tribunal ruling

Two weeks later the teenager’s mother made a complaint to NHS England about her son’s consultation with Dr Scott.

Dr Scott told the tribunal hearing he declined the use of anti-depressants for his patient, discussed counselling then asked permission to “tackle his issues from a third, spiritual, angle”.

But the teenager told the tribunal he was “taken aback” when the doctor began talking about Christianity, which made him feel “uneasy” and claimed the GP told him he needed to “reconnect” with God.

Dr Scott told the tribunal that he does not pressurise anyone into a spiritual discussion but rather “offers and encourages”.

The tribunal found that though patient B did consent to undertake a spiritual discussion, Dr Scott “then overstepped the boundaries”.

He should have checked the teenager was “comfortable” with engaging in such a discussion and did not feel under pressure to continue it, the tribunal ruled.

General Medical Council (GMC) guidance states doctors may practise medicine in accordance with their beliefs provided they do not cause distress to patients.

And they must not impose or express personal beliefs or values, including political, religious and moral beliefs, to patients in ways that exploit their vulnerability or are likely to cause them distress.

In a 41-page ruling following the tribunal hearings, which began on August 21, the MPTS concluded Dr Scott’s conduct constituted misconduct.

But the ruling continued: “However, in the context of these events, it did not find that Dr Scott’s conduct could be considered deplorable or disgraceful.

“Therefore, it concluded that, although this amounted to misconduct, Dr Scott’s actions did not cross the high threshold required to be considered serious misconduct.”

The tribunal is currently sitting to consider if Dr Scott should be given a warning letter – which would be his second.

In June 2012 the GMC issued Dr Scott with the warning letter after a patient complained the GP had abused his position to push his religion upon him.

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