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) and would be subjected to a discrimination inquiry.
In May 2018, Wolverson was working his shift at the Royal Stoke University Hospital’s walk-in clinic when he was approached by a woman wearing a full-face veil.
She wanted him to treat her 5-year-old daughter’s sore throat. Wolverson said that the woman’s voice was muffled by the veil and he couldn’t understand her.
The doctor then asked if she could remove it. The woman complied, but when she told her husband, he complained to the hospital.
Wolverson said that he has treated a number of Muslim women without any incident and has asked them to remove their veils. He said they usually do so without any problems, according to the Mail.
“It’s very difficult for anyone outside the medical profession to understand what this means to a doctor,” Wolverson, 52, told the paper.
“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 him as saying.
Adding that there was no sign the woman was upset over the matter, Wolverson said it 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 waves of fear, the doctor said that he is now going to fight for his reputation.
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.”
After receiving some 60,990 signatures on a petition, he said he is “absolutely bowled over” by the response, The Independent reported.
“I would like to get as many people as possible to sign this petition and save this man’s reputation,” the petition organizer on Change.org, signed as Rhaegwyn WelshDragon5517, said. “I believe he acted in the best interest of the child involved and there was no racist or religious discrimination in his actions.”
— Daily Mirror (@DailyMirror) May 20, 2019
Meanwhile, the Doctors Association called on the United Kingdom’s GMC to issue better guidelines about doctors and patients.
“It is of utmost importance that the religious wishes of our patients are respected,” a spokesperson told The Independent. “However, evidently there are some circumstances where removal of a niqab or burqa is necessary for medical assessment and treatment.”
Wolverson noted that he will now face a hearing, which will decide his fate.
“The trouble is, I’m a freelance doctor and if you get reported to the GMC you don’t get any offers of work,” he explained. “Yes I want to carry on, yes I will carry on, but it is academic until the inquiry is over.”