A tribunal hearing for a Christian GP who received complaints after offering “spiritual” care to his patients has been called off after a last-ditch settlement.
Dr Richard Scott, who works at the Bethesda Medical Centre in Margate, came under fire following revelations he offered to pray with those under his care.
The 62-year-old doctor received a number of complaints relating to the role religion played in consultations over the last two decades.
He says he offered spiritual care to around one in 40 patients, and around 80% of people offered such support took him up on the offer.
A tribunal between Dr Scott and NHS England was set to begin in Ashford earlier today to determine whether he could still be allowed to work as an NHS doctor.
But the hearing has been called off following last-ditch talks between both parties.
An agreement was reached which means Dr Scott will now take part in a one-day training course costing £500 relating to “professional boundaries”. His appeal was withdrawn without an admission of liability.
It comes after the Christian doctor faced disciplinary measures and mandatory conditions imposed against him after he was told he would be barred from the NHS Practitioners List for offering to pray with some of his patients.
NHS England had taken up a case against Dr Scott who the General Medical Council (GMC) had twiced ruled had not breached its guidelines.
Following a series of investigations the family GP was given a list of conditions which included taking an £1800 "professional boundaries" course, at his own expense.
But he said he was "horrified" to discover that the course is usually reserved for doctors who have inappropriately touched a patient or crossed sexual boundaries, and so refused.
Dr Scott, who works at the medical facility in Palm Bay Avenue, Cliftonville, said the dispute should never have been allowed to get this far.
He said the complaint stemmed from an interview he did for the BBC Radio 4 series Battles That Won Our Freedoms in which he admitted using prayer with patients.
Dr Scott said: “I do try to follow the General Medical Council guidelines and if you read them correctly, they allow you and encourage you to speak to patients about religion where it’s relevant to their care.
“Full well-being is physical, mental and spiritual and it’s more than appropriate, it’s necessary for some patients to look into those existential issues in a way that standard western medicine doesn’t provide.
“Some people are desperate for help and I can give any number of examples of people I’ve helped through spiritual care – which is done on my own time and fully consented.”
It is not the first time Dr Scott has had dealings with the GMC.
In 2012, he was officially warned by the council for discussing faith with a patient with the warning lasting five years on his record.
A year later the GP wrote a book about his battle with cancer from perspectives of both his medical and religious beliefs.
“...It has been particularly distasteful to see NHS England picking on a Christian doctor who is appropriately offering that support."
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, which backed Dr Scott’s case, said: “Dr Scott is a highly experienced doctor whose life and career has been committed to serving his patients and community.
“He is loved and respected by his community which he has served for decades. His love for Jesus and dedication to his faith is also well known where he works and within the community."
The centre went on to accuse the NHS of "picking on" Dr Scott.
She added: “There is no evidence that Dr Scott’s practice of praying with his patients has in any way interfered with his delivery of excellent medicine – in fact, quite the opposite.
“At a time when there is widespread recognition that emotional and spiritual support play a significant role in physical healing, it has been particularly distasteful to see NHS England picking on a Christian doctor who is appropriately offering that support.
“It is now a relief to Richard and his family that this case is finally settled.”
But the National Secular Society, which complained to the GMC, said Dr Scott's Radio 4 comments formed only part of the complaint.
It previously claimed it was contacted by a member of the public who was concerned because an acquaintance whom she described as "highly vulnerable" was being treated at the practice and was made to feel uncomfortable by Dr Scott "imposing his religious views".
Stephen Evans, chief executive officer of the National Secular Society said: "The multiple complaints regarding Dr Scott’s conduct over many years suggest he lacks sensitivity and fails to work within the ethical standards required of a doctor.
"Despite previously warnings Dr Scott appears blind to the potentially damaging effect of his actions.
"We are therefore pleased that NHS England has taken steps to remedy that.
“NHS Patients quite rightly expect to receive healthcare without having someone else’s religious beliefs imposed on them. Evangelism that targets people who are ill or vulnerable is exploitative and patients should be protected from it.”
A spokesperson for NHS England in the South East said: “NHS England has reached an agreement with Dr Scott for his appeal to be withdrawn without an admission of liability.
“Any spiritual care in Dr Scott’s consultations must be in accordance with the clear GMC guidance and Dr Scott has agreed to attend a one-day professional boundaries course within three months.”