The NHS entered the debate about What Not to Wearthis week as the Daily Expresstrumpeted: 'The veil is banned in hospitals.' The paper revealed 'details of the purge of faceless medics' at Birmingham University's school of medicine. Students are allowed to cover up in lectures and on campus, but not while seeing patients or meeting other staff in hospitals or GP surgeries.
The policy actually dates back to 2004, a university spokeswoman told HSJ. She explained that when students are in a clinical environment they are allowed to wear a head dress 'as long as it does not cover the face, to help aid communications with patients and other colleagues'.
Still, the issue of the niqab (face veil) is suddenly topical, so perhaps it is reasonable for the Expressto quote a 2005 General Medical Council statement to the Student British Medical Journal. 'We do not consider that wearing a face veil, in and of itself, necessarily has any effect on a doctor's ability to practise medicine,' it read. 'However patients may find that a face veil presents an obstacle to effective communication.' The original story provoked little reaction. Last year, it seems, the veil was a non-issue.
The story was brought right up to date with a quote from higher education minister Bill Rammell, who told the Expresshe 'supported universities which banned students and staff from wearing the veil' - which is going a bit further than the actual university policy. 'Many teachers would feel uncomfortable about their ability to teach students who were covering their faces.'
The paper also spoke to Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar. He too backed the university's policy: 'Removal is fine where professional issues are called into question, when doctors and nurses meet with patients.'
For once, a news story about the NHS where everyone agrees.