Health officials are having crisis talks with Muslim medical staff who have objected to hospital hygiene rules because of religious beliefs.
Medics in hospitals in at least three major English cities have refused to follow the regulations aimed at helping tackle superbugs because of their faith, it has been revealed.
Women medical students at Alder Hey children’s hospital in Liverpool objected to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands and removing arm coverings in theatre, claiming it is regarded as immodest.
Similar concerns were raised at Leicester University and Sheffield University reported a case of a Muslim medic refusing to “scrub” because it left her forearms exposed.
Some students have said that they would prefer to quit the course rather than expose their arms, but hygiene experts said no exceptions should be made on religious grounds.
A Royal Liverpool hospital spokesman said they had experienced issues of Muslim staff not sanitising their forearms with alcohol gel although this had now been addressed.
Dr Steve Ryan, medical director at Alder Hey said that while the “bare below the elbows” dress code is a matter of patient safety, the trust would work with Muslim students to find a solution.
He said: “We specify bare below elbows, no wrist watches, nail varnish or false nails in clinical areas.
“Good hand hygiene is one of the most important and simplest actions we can take to prevent healthcare associated infections.
“A number of female Muslim students had approached the University of Liverpool to ask if we would provide facilities for them to change their outerwear and Hijab for theatre scrubs.
“We were pleased to accommodate this request and these facilities have now been incorporated.”
Muslim medics at Alder Hey Hospital have claimed the guidelines contradict their religion
Dr Charles Tannock, a Conservative MEP and former hospital consultant, said: “These students are being trained using taxpayers’ money and they have a duty of care to their patients not to put their health at risk.
“Perhaps these women should not be choosing medicine as a career if they feel unable to abide by the guidelines everyone else has to follow.”
But the Islamic Medical Association insisted that covering all the body in public, except the face and hands, was a basic tenet of Islam.
It said: “No practising Muslim woman – doctor, medical student, nurse or patient – should be forced to bare her arms below the elbow.”
The new Department of Health guidance was introduced this month in a bid to restrict the spread of potentially fatal infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficle.
The code of practice helps NHS bodies to plan and implement how they can prevent and control healthcare- associated infections.
It sets out criteria by which managers of NHS organisations are to ensure that patients are cared for in a clean environment and the risk of infections is kept as low as possible.