A leading heart surgeon from Southampton is demanding healthcare staff across the country are trained in helping patients with specific religious and cultural needs.
Aiman Alzetani, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, slammed the current lack of basic training and information for healthcare professionals, saying it had created “obstacles” for staff and “disconnected” them from some patients.
Practices such as washing before and after meals, shaking hands with members of the opposite sex and male relatives seeing female Islamic patients without a hijab on were just some of the instances cited by Mr Alzetani.
Now Mr Alzetani wants a pocket or ward guide on all religions and cultures for use across the NHS. He also wants to see “culture champions” in hospitals offering advice and support.
He said: “It can be a source of frustration for clinical staff when patients do not seem to be cooperating, but in the case of Muslim patients, for example, it could be something as simple as someone trying to pass them food in their left hand, which they wash with, instead of their right.
“Muslim patients are also required to hand-wash before and after eating and, if bed-bound, may need a portable handwash facility which, again, can seem odd or unnecessary to those who are not familiar with such processes.
“It is not widely known that Muslims are not allowed to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex, that intoxicating drugs are not permissible or that not all male family members are allowed to visit a female relative without her hijab on.
“These are all situations that could cause issues between staff and patients, but they could be easily avoided with some basic training or information to help guide staff.”
But the secretary of the Southampton Council of Faiths, David Vane, said they already do enough to promote the practices of other faiths.
He said: “We already work with the chaplaincy at the hospital. The chaplaincy used to be the representatives for Christians, now we have representatives for all faiths, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and others.”