Is seeing your doctor's or nurse's face an important part of the medical process for you? In the UK, politicians have called for a review on professional standards in hospitals regarding staff wearing of the niqab and other face-covering veils.
Following a report by The Telegraph that revealed 17 hospitals had "secretly" placed their own bans on the cloths, UK ministers have brought up concerns about National Health Service (NHS) hospital staff wearing full face veils in front of patients. Health Minister Dr. Dan Poulter has called on the General Medical Council to perform a review whether there is “appropriate” doctor-patient contact, and to ensure patients feel comfortable with face-to-face communications with the staff. Some national rules or guidelines will be drawn up in the review.
Face veils such as niqabs or hijabs — veils that cover the head and chest of a Muslim woman — are worn for religious and cultural reasons, adhering to a standard of modesty and morality.
According to the BBC, there are no exact numbers on female hospital staff who wear face veils on duty, but it is assumed that the number of women wearing veils is actually quite low.
UK Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says that he supports the “autonomy” of hospitals to ban the staff from wearing face-covering veils. He emphasized that he believed it was a “professional and not political” issue.
According to The Telegraph, 17 NHS hospitals have already placed a ban on staff wearing the niqab when in contact with patients. The niqab is a full veil covering the entire face, revealing only the eyes. There is no national law or guidance on the issue, so these hospitals have taken it on themselves to ban the veils.
Other hospitals allow the veil to be worn due to religion, but opponents say such veils may inhibit effective communication and patient comfort.
“Certainly if I was a patient myself, I’d want to be able to see the face of the doctor or nurse who was treating me,” Hunt told the BBC.
Hospital staff members who have chosen to wear veils in the public sphere, however, believe they have a right to feel comfortable as well. Nurse Umm Sufyaan told the BBC that she felt "a bit uncomfortable on shift" when she was not wearing her full veil.
“I am proud of the rich ethnic diversity of our health care workforce and support appropriate religious and cultural freedoms, but a vital part of good patient care is effective verbal and non-verbal communication,” Poulter told The Telegraph. “Being unable to see a health care professional’s face can be a barrier to good and empathetic communication with patients and their families.”