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Doctors can pray with their patients – as long as they ensure patients are receptive to the offer.
Three separate pronouncements in the last month have appeared to clarify a controversial position for healthcare professionals.

New guidance from the Medical Defence Union quotes a senior figure at the GeneralMedicalCouncil (GMC) saying that a “tactful offer” to pray would be appropriate.

While conversations about faith should not be a starting point, “doctors can, however, sensitively explore whether a patient may wish to discuss their own faith when it is appropriate to their care and then provide spiritual support if this is what the patient wants,” according to Niall Dickson, the GMC’s chief executive.

Elsewhere, a magazine for general practitioners, Pulse, reported that the GMC was standing by comments from its assistant director, Jane O’Brien, in a letter in The Daily Telegraph in 2009.

In the letter, O’Brien said nothing in the GMC’s guidelines precludes doctors from praying with their patients.

The issue of faith and patients has caused some controversy.

In 2008, a Baptist nurse, Caroline Petrie, was suspended for offering to pray with a patient. She was later reinstated.

In May, Dr. Richard Scott said he would formally reject an official warning from the GMC for discussing his faith with a patient.

Graham McAll, who has worked as a general surgeon and inner city general practitioner, has published a book, “At a Given Moment: Faith Matters in Healthcare Encounters,” which clarifies misunderstandings about what constitutes acceptable behavior and explains how the clinician’s own faith can be expressed.

GMC guidelines currently strike a “wise balance,” McAll said. He welcomed Dickson’s comments.

“It is great that the GMC understands that exploring patients’ worldview with them is often important in the context of how they will respond to illness,” McAll said.

“We know that if a patient wishes to discuss issues of faith, they are more likely to welcome an offer of prayer.

“These comments by Niall Dickson should help healthcare workers be less fearful as they sensitively, gently and respectfully ask simple questions about their patient’s faith and discuss the implications or, on occasion, offer prayer.

“I support the GMC guidelines as currently written. They strike a wise balance. They do not intend to restrict a clinician’s freedom of speech and they encourage us to make the needs of the patient our first concern, as we seek the truth of the situation together.”

This article appeared originally in TheBaptistTimes of Great Britain.

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