British Sikh doctor moved off frontline work after controversy over beard and equipment

1st May 2020   •   article
by Barfi Culture Team
Twitter @barfi_culture.
Credit: British Sikh Doctors
A British Sikh doctor was moved off frontline work after he refused to shave his beard for personal protective equipment, the Telegraph reports this morning.

But the news is likely to spark anger and frustration among Sikh doctors who say no such action is necessary.

What happened?

A Consultant Anaesthist working at a hospital in Wolverhampton was reassigned to "background work on the ward" because he refused to shave off his beard to let the protective mask fit.

The incident came to the attention of Dr Sukhdev Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Doctors Association, who said the consultant was "very distressed" and made to feel guilty for his actions. The doctor has not been named.

"The consultant felt guilty because his colleagues had to fill in for his shifts when all he needed was the correct PPE," Dr Singh told the Telegraph.

A complicated issue

This issue of beards not fitting into personal protective equipment (PPE) has come up before.

In late March, new coronavirus guidance for NHS staff said: "Beards, stubble and facial hair cause a common problem when using PPE face masks, as this can prevent the mask being able to seal to the face and passing the fit test."

But the guidance also noted there were alternatives – such as hoods and helmets – that would allow staff to keep beards. It noted such alternatives were more expensive and may require extra training, which may not always be possible.

The guidance also noted that NHS trusts should try and look for solutions and that a request to shave could "indirectly discriminate some employees".

Sikh doctors have said its not always necessary

The British Sikh Doctors Association recommends wearing respirator hoods where possible.

Update: The Labour MP Tan Dhesi and Council leader Jas Athwal have weighed in.

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