Surgeon calls for religious and cultural training guide for healthcare staff

A leading surgeon based at Southampton’s university hospitals has called for the development of a national training guide to help staff care for patients with specific religious and cultural needs.

Aiman Alzetani, a consultant cardiothoracic surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said the current lack of basic training and information for healthcare professionals across the UK had created “obstacles” for staff and “disconnected” them from some patients.

He spoke out ahead of his presentation on raising cultural awareness at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust's annual equality and diversity conference. 

“Unfortunately, as religious and cultural awareness is not currently an essential part of training and development for healthcare professionals, many remain innocently unaware of its importance to some groups in society,” he explained.

“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 hand wash facility which, again, can seem odd or unnecessary to those who are not familiar with such processes.”

Mr Alzetani said these instances were common, particularly among patients unable to communicate clearly, but there were also many other scenarios seen regularly in hospitals nationwide.

"It is not widely known 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," he said.

"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 – and that goes for any religion or culture which involves sensitive traditions or rituals."

He said he would now push for the development of a pocket or ward-based guide on all religions and cultures for use across the NHS, as well as the introduction of staff 'culture champions' in hospitals to offer advice, training and support.

The UHS equality and diversity conference, which offers members of staff the opportunity to raise awareness of key issues and showcases how the organisation is integrating equality and diversity into mainstream work, takes place on Wednesday (4 June) from 9am to 4.30pm in the Heartbeat Education Centre at Southampton General Hospital.

Posted on Monday 2 June 2014