More than 130,000 people so far have signed a petition to stop a U.K. doctor from being fired after he reportedly asked a Muslim woman to remove her veil, triggering controversy and an investigation that could cost him his job.
Dr. Keith Wolverson told the Daily Mail that he has been “rather fearful of the consequences” after he was reported to the General Medical Council (GMC) over allegations of discrimination. He said he is now facing an investigation.
In May 2018, Wolverson was working a shift at the Royal Stoke University Hospital’s walk-in clinic when he was approached by a woman who was clad in a full-face veil.
The unnamed woman wanted him to treat her 5-year-old daughter’s sore throat, and Wolverson recalled that the woman’s voice was muffled by the veil and he couldn’t understand her.
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) May 20, 2019
The doctor then asked if she could remove it. The woman complied, but later, she apparently she told her husband, and he complained to the hospital.
Wolverson said that he has treated a number of Muslim women without any issues and has asked them to remove their veils. In the interview with the Mail, the doctor said they usually do so without any problems.
“It’s very difficult for anyone outside the medical profession to understand what this means to a doctor,” Wolverson, 52, told the news outlet.
“It was about communication. I think it’s really difficult to communicate appropriately and accurately if one can’t see the facial movements as well. It’s a similar thing to asking a patient to remove a crash helmet. It’s not about culture, it’s about clarity,” the Daily Mail quoted Wolverson as saying.
Adding that there was no sign the woman was upset over the matter, Wolverson said the investigation is a “threat of unimaginable proportion.”
“These matters usually take about a year, during which one can’t get any locum work because one is obliged to declare that one is being investigated, and no one will touch you while it is going on,” he said. “So I knew my life would be on hold for months, and my 23-year career could be left in ruins.”
After first experiencing fear, the doctor said that he is now going to fight for his reputation amid the controversy.
Wolverson said that he thinks that speaking out publicly will further his cause.
“I thought, I’m not going to be a victim here. I can feel sorry for myself—or I can be that decent, honorable Englishman that stands and fights, the way I had been brought up,” he said.
“I chose the latter option to right what was, to me, an enormous miscarriage of justice. A slight on an honorable and decent man’s character that his career and professional reputation may never recover from,” he said.
As of June 7, the Change.org petition reached 132,000 out of 150,000 signatures.
“I would like to get as many people as possible to sign this petition and save this mans reputation,” said the creator of the petition. “I believe he acted in the best interest of the child involved and their was no racist or religious discrimination in his actions. We need to ensure the General Medical Council treat this man fairly and look at all the evidence.”
Meanwhile, the NHS is “severely understaffed and we cannot afford to lose doctors due to fabricated accusations of discrimination,” the organizer of the petition said.
Doctor’s Association Responds
Last week, the Doctor’s Association U.K. issued a statement about the controversy.
The organization said on its website, “It is of utmost importance that the religious wishes of our patients are respected. However, evidently there are some circumstances where removal of a niqab or burka is necessary for medical assessment and treatment. The GMC should consider issuing clear guidelines to protect both doctors and our patients.”
It noted that “there is plentiful guidance for doctors and NHS staff who wear religious garments, and when patients can ask a treating clinician to remove them. However, no such guidance exists for the opposite situation.”