NHS 'should treat Muslims differently'

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LONDON (Reuters), Jan 12 - Muslims should be given different treatment on the National Health Service to take into account the requirements of their faith, a doctor reported in an editorial in the British Medical Journal on Friday.

Britain's 1.6 million Muslims are twice as likely to report poor health and disability but the NHS keeps no details on patients by religious affinity, according to Edinburgh University primary care professor Aziz Sheikh.

He said the NHS should record patients' religion as well as their ethnic grouping. "It is absurd that we do not, for example, know the perinatal mortality or smoking prevalence among Muslims," he said.

Male infant circumcision should be available throughout the NHS, he added. Although some NHS trusts do offer circumcision, most parents are forced into the poorly regulated private sector, he said.

The NHS should be more accommodating to the religious needs of Muslims

Many Muslims would prefer to see a same-sex doctor for reasons of modesty, but this was often not possible, despite the increasing number of female doctors in the NHS.

More information about drug ingredients should also be available to allow Muslim patients to avoid porcine and alcohol-derived drugs.

But Aneez Esmail, professor of primary care at Manchester University, said it was not practical for the NHS to meet everyone's demands for special services.

"Going down the path of providing special services for defined groups risks stigmatising and stereotyping," he wrote in the journal in response to Sheikh's proposals.

"The way forward is not a crude categorization of people into even more tightly defined groups."

He said the NHS monitored ethnicity to assess the effectiveness of its services and to challenge inequality.

"It is not about assuming that the Asian patient has a core set of beliefs about illness because of fixed ethnic traits."

Esmail said the NHS did not have to provide a national circumcision service for Muslim and Jewish families to protect them from poorly regulated alternatives.

Instead the NHS could provide a list of accredited doctors trained to carry out the procedure.

Last Updated: 2007-01-12 11:40:33 -0400 (Reuters Health)

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