An item on the Heaven and Earth Show this morning made me splutter over my porridge.
A Islamic group is demanding that the NHS create a new uniform for Muslim nurses who choose to wear the niquab, the full veil that conceals the entire face leaving only a narrow slit for vision.
The group behind this idea have devised such a uniform, basically it is the green scrubs increasingly favoured by the nursing profession, topped off by a green hood. The person who advanced towards the camera wearing it looked like an escapee from a particularly scary episode of Dr. Who or Touchwood.
Now as I have mentioned many times, a few years ago I had a long spell in hospital and can promise you the last thing anyone wants to see when they away in a somewhat bewildered state is an anonymous, green-hooded figure. Have I died and gone to green hell? the patient might think, has there been an outbreak of plague while I was sleeping?
As one would expect, the NHS directorate has not treated this demand with the contempt it deserves. Why would they, here is an opportunity to set up focus groups and steering committee, commission strategic analysis reports and feasibility studies and expend millions of pounds and hours in taking seriously a risible idea.
To give credit where it is due, the NHS does very well in catering for the special requirements of both staff and patients whose faith requires flexibility in the rules. I recall that in Burnley, a town with a large Asian community, the hospital had an Asian menu as well as a standard menu. Many of us requested the Asian menu because it was actually very good whereas the food on the standard menu was often inedible.
On the ward staff simply arranged between themselves that a Muslim woman would never have to accept help with dressing, bathing or other personal acts from a male nurse (though the asian males did not seem to have a problem being bathed by British female nurses.)
In matters of dress too the senior staff on the ward managed individual requirements very well. On the unit where I spent most of my time we had two muslin nurses, one wore the green overall and a hijab, the other favoured shortish skirts and a pony tail. I recall cannot think there would be more than a handful of nurses in the country who, having chosen a carer as a nurse would then try to insist on wearing the niquab.
Once religious zealots get hold of an idea however, they find it difficult to let go so we can expect this issue to escalate and Muslim nurses to come under increasing pressure from fanatical (male) bigots.
The great pity of all this is the Islamic community has missed a chance to align itself with British mainstream society. Among the complaints of the group behind the current row is the issue of mixed wards. This is not acceptable under Islamic beliefs. Quite right too, it is the most crackpot of all money saving schemes dreamed up by the NHS bean counters. The whole concept of mixed wards is an affront to dignity. Is it not bad enough that when at our most vulnerable and sensitive we are thrust among strangers without stripping us of all privacy as well? I am sure these travesties are an offence under international human rights law.
Sadly though, instead of demonstrating how much secular Muslims have in common with secular Christians and secular humanists the Islamic community risks being dragged towards further segregation by its lunatic fringe.
Read the story of my time in hospital
It takes a special talent to turn such a personal catastrophe into a hilarious and engaging account of life as a long term hospital patient. Inspirational reading :- Jaqui Wilson, Radio Presenter and reviewer.