Social Justice. Equality. Enterprise.

Impact of Faith on Health


Does ‘faith' have a role in recovery?, Liz Lockhart

A very interesting point is raised by two letters published on Two GPs have written diametrically opposing letters about the role of ‘faith' in the recovery of illness, with special regard to vulnerable patients.

Dr. Richard Scott, a GP in Margate, Kent, is currently at the centre of a row with the GMC.

Dr. Scott explains:

‘The current GMC case in which I am having to defend myself is based on whether I ‘overstepped the mark' in offering the gospel to a patient in a consultation last year. In so doing, I am accused of bringing the profession into disrepute and exploiting a vulnerable patient'.

‘In our increasingly secular and politically correct society, in which political leaders (Blair, Brown, Cameron) have had their own struggles in being true to their avowed Christian faith at work, why should I and others risk reaching out spiritually to patients in our consulting room?'

‘Because it works. In Margate, many patients present to our general practice with deep-seated and longstanding problems for which standard medical attention has availed little. Drug and alcohol addiction, childhood abuse, severe anxiety and depression, personality disorders and self-harm, linked to self-loathing is rife. ‘

‘While medication and counselling can play their part, most doctors would agree that standard Western medicine only partially helps these miserable conditions, and the patients who suffer them become ‘heart sinks' – a derogatory term implying fault in the patient while instead often reflecting medical inadequacy as we don't have what they need.'

‘What, then, can be done to help such needy customers? Coming late to general practice in 1988, and having joined a sound Christian practice with other Christian doctors and nurses, I have offered the Christian message, where relevant, in thousands of consultations.'

‘I have seen hundreds of patients helped and many lives changed – drug addicts no longer offending and costing the country through incarceration in prison, violent people calmed, those with anxiety and depression finding at least some peace and those whose faith helps them through chronic physical conditions. ‘

‘Only last month I attended the funeral of a patient dying young from cancer, who had been delighted to discuss his faith with me in clinic. It sustained him and his family through a terrible time. Praying with patients can sometimes lead to dramatic results.'

‘Four infertile couples in our surgery have recently borne children following prayer.'

‘Previously, people commonly sought out the local pastor for ethical and religious advice and prayer. Nowadays, many, particularly non-church goers, consult a GP. But you can only give what you've got.'

‘A GP with a specialist interest in acupuncture might offer this service to a patient with tennis elbow or point to a chiropractor for someone with a chronic back condition, without fear of censure. But after trying medication, counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and psychiatry for those with mental health conditions, or having sent substance abusers to the local addiction clinic for most practitioners the armoury rapidly becomes bare. This is where God, through Jesus can come in.'

‘Most studies looking at the impact of faith, particularly Christian faith, on medical conditions have shown hugely positive results; increased longevity, better responses to cancer treatment, increased marital wellbeing and happiness in general, better recover from surgery, reduced anxiety – the list goes on. Thus introducing faith into a consultation is increasingly evidence-based medicine.'

~This is no accident or coincidence, as health and wellbeing is in line with God's promises for His people in scripture. Jesus said: "I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10:10).'

‘I am very greedy for my patients. I want them not just to do well, but to do really well in life. Whole-person medicine involves the spiritual, not just the mental and physical aspects of life.'

‘This is on a basis that I have no hesitation in offering the gospel to needy patients where appropriate. The results speak for themselves.'

In response

Dr Andrew Clarke, Newton Aycliffe, County Durham writes:

I must take issue with Dr. Richard Scott-

‘I think the consultation is not the place for anyone to discuss their superstitious beliefs, especially with patients who can be, as he admitted, vulnerable (drug addicts, abuse victims and so on) and possibly easily led.'

‘A 10 minute consultation is often not enough time to look after the patients' health issues, never mind indulge in their ‘spiritual' needs, so it is possible that in so doing the health issues may be neglected.'

‘I try to practice evidence-based medicine and my ‘faith' in any particular treatment relies on that evidence.'

‘Dr Scott mentions studies looking at the impact of faith. I genuinely would like to hear of the evidence he alludes to, as I have an open mind and will use this if my patients will benefit. However, I would only be interested in the results from proper, peer-reviewed, double-blind trials, not hearsay or anecdotes such as ‘an infertile woman became pregnant once I had prayed for her'. Do I even need to mention how many people die or suffer despite prayers?'

‘I know of one double-blind trial in the US concerning prayer and recovery from cardiac surgery. The results were inconclusive, but did veer towards a negative outcome for those who were prayed for – perhaps they thought their condition was more serious because they needed prayers?'

‘I imagine if Dr Scott had not done anything to upset his patient he wouldn't have been referred to the GMC.'

‘Just today at lunchtime a patient who had recently lost he husband accidentally call me ‘Father' as we were chatting, so I well understand that some patients (fewer as time goes on) take solace in their beliefs.'

‘But let's keep medicine secular, for God's sake.'

These two opposing letters open up a very interesting debate. I have made mention to this subject on my ‘blog' so feel free to join in the discussion and comment there.

We want to hear from you, please see Liz's blog about this and have your say here.

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