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Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 00:40 GMT
Call for faith-based NHS services
Roof of a mosque showing silhouette of a crescent moon
Muslims are twice as likely to report poor health
The NHS should provide more faith-based care for Muslims, an expert says.

Muslims are about twice as likely to report poor health and disability than the general population, says Edinburgh University's Professor Aziz Sheikh.

Writing in the British Medical Journal, he called for male circumcision on the NHS and more details over alcohol derived drugs.

But Manchester University health expert Professor Aneez Esmail said it was not possible to meet everyone's needs.

Professor Sheikh said a better picture of the health profile and experiences of British Muslims was needed to help them access services.

Many Muslims, to maintain modesty, prefer to see a same sex clinician
Professor Aziz Sheikh, from Edinburgh University

"The limited health data show that Muslims are about twice as likely to self report poor health and disability as the general population.

"Muslims are predominantly congregated in the inner city slums, have the lowest household income, poorest educational attainment, and highest unemployment and experience more poverty than any other faith community."

He said the first step towards collecting better data would be to record religious affiliation, not just ethnic background at primary and secondary care levels.

But the NHS should also start to tailor services in a more targetted way.

"Male infant circumcision should be available throughout the NHS. Although a handful of NHS trusts provide it, most parents are forced into the poorly regulated private sector," Professor Sheikh said.

He also said hospitals needed to accommodate Muslims in other ways.

"Many Muslims, to maintain modesty, prefer to see a same sex clinician. Such choice is typically unavailable despite the higher number of women doctors in the NHS.

"Another important service is to enable Muslims to avoid porcine and alcohol derived drugs."

Professor Sheikh, from Edinburgh University's division of community health services, added Muslims should be given better access to prayer facilities and advice over how they should modify their treatment for chronic conditions during Ramadan.


But Professor Aneez Esmail, from Manchester University's school of primary care, said: "While it is reasonable we try to plan and configure our services to take account of needs that may have their roots in particular beliefs... we cannot meet everyone's demands for special services based on their religious identity. It would not be practical."

And he added that some faith groups might support practices which may be morally and ethically unacceptable to the majority - for example female circumcision and the refusal to accept blood transfusions in life saving situations.

Professor Esmail said going down the path of providing special services for defined groups risks stigmatisation and stereotyping.

"In an ideal world doctors would ask about a patient's beliefs not so that they can be categorised but because it might be important for the patient in their illness."

The Department of Health said services were and had to be decided on a clinical need, which was decided either on recommendations from the NHS advisory agency NICE or on a trust by trust basis.

The spokesman added: "All patients are entitled to ask to see doctors of a certain sex."

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