Chris Lancelot: Let's keep medicine personal

Despite all our advances in scientific knowledge, medicine still remains as much an art as a science.

The personality of the doctor or nurse is supremely important in the healing process. As Michael Balint succinctly observed, the doctor himself is part of the medicine.

This isn't always understood by those outside the profession, who frequently imagine that any one carer is equal to any other with the same qualifications. I'm sure this is why some PCTs and hospitals ban referrals to named consultants: they want the individual taken out of medicine.

Only it doesn't work. In medicine, who we are is important. We all bring something of ourselves into our consultations. Whether it is cheerfulness, empathy, confidence in the patient's future, or even just a shared hobby, it is all part of the caring process.

Remove the personality from medicine (which makes healthcare workers into little more than medical robots) and everyone loses - particularly the patients.

So it is with great sadness that I heard about Caroline Petrie, a community nurse who had offered to pray for a patient. What a kind, personal and caring thing to do. Yet North Somerset PCT decided that this needed investigating, so it suspended her.

Its decision raises a number of questions. What was so heinous about her actions that warranted removing her from work? I could understand it if she had been accused of murder or child molestation, but surely not for just offering to pray for a patient? Is the PCT really so flush with nurses that it can afford to suspend one on such trivial grounds during the flu season?

What about other beliefs? Would the PCT have suspended a nurse for offering Reiki or crystal healing? Or is this really about discrimination against a Christian in a way that would never be contemplated had the nurse been of a different faith or ethnic background?

I fully support Caroline Petrie in her actions, just as I would a Muslim or a Sikh NHS worker under similar circumstances. The fact that the PCT clearly did not support her makes it, its staff and its patients all the poorer. In medicine the personality of carers is important. Staff are people, as well as professionals. Let's keep it that way.

Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire.

Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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