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19 Sep, 2013 09:24

UK hospitals secretly enforcing staff head scarf ban

UK hospitals secretly enforcing staff head scarf ban

A number of UK hospitals have specific polices that prohibit staff wearing a face veil when dealing with patients, a report has revealed. The UK’s Muslim community says it is “disgusted” with the government debate on whether to ban the traditional garb.

A report carried out by the English publication the Daily Telegraph found that 17 hospitals in the UK had effectively banned employees from wearing the niqab, which covers the face of the wearer.

The report revealed that in the absence of national regulations, the 17 NHS hospitals had put guidelines in place that prohibit employees from using the garment when dealing with patients. By in large, bans on the niqab are not enforced in NHS hospitals and most institutions allow the veil to be worn for religious reasons.

However, there is no legislation in place, so it is at the hospital’s discretion whether or not to ban the garment.
The research found the guidelines were prevalent in areas of the UK where there is a large Muslim population. The Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation trust which administers two hospitals in the North of England has guidelines which forbid the use of the niqab “where clear face to face communication is essential” to ensure “effective communication.”

In an interview with the Telegraph, UK Health Minister Dan Poulter said he had called for clinical regulators to draft clear rules that would ban the use of the garment when staffs deal face-to-face with patients.

“Being unable to see a health care professional’s face can be a barrier to good and empathetic communication with patients and their families,” said Dr. Poulter, stressing measures are being put in place to “ensure that there is always appropriate face to face contact between health care professionals and their patients.”

Muslim community ‘disgusted’

The current discussion over a possible ban on wearing the traditional Muslim dress in public has provoked the ire of the UK’s Muslim community. According to official statistics Muslims make up around 4.8 per cent of the population and only a small proportion of them wear the traditional niqab.  

At the beginning of this week, Home Officer Minister Jeremy Browne called for a debate on restricting the use of the niqab in public. He stated that although a ban made him feel “uneasy”, restrictions should be looked at to ensure “freedom of choice” for girls living in Muslim communities.

In retaliation to the politician’s comments, the chief executive for the Ramadhan Foundation, Mohammed Shafiq, said Browne’s suggestion was indicative of the UK government’s double standard policy on the Muslim minority.

"Whatever one's religion they should be free to practice it according to their own choices and any attempt by the government to ban Muslim women will be strongly resisted by the Muslim community," said Shafiq.

Support for a discussion on a possible ban has been sporadic in the UK’s coalition government. Home Secretary, Teresa May, condemned the initiative on Tuesday and said it was not for the government to decide what women could wear. Moreover, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Klegg said that he may offer support for a ban in classrooms, but refrained from commenting on possible wider restrictions.

The issue of banning the niqab hit the headlines again in the UK after a controversial ruling in a district court obliged a Muslim woman to take off her veil while she was giving evidence in court. Furthermore, an attempt to ban the traditional garb in a Birmingham college was overturned at the beginning of September.

The case was flagged when a teenager was told she would not be allowed to wear her niqab when she tried to enroll in Birmingham Metropolitan College. This decision, at a college where a large proportion of students are Asian, prompted a huge social media campaign, including a petition signed by 9,000 people, and plans for a demonstration.