Anti-gay message to medics

June 12, 1998

CAMBRIDGE University medical school has come under attack for its admissions procedure, which members of the British Medical Association claim could be interpreted as discriminatory against gay men and Africans.

The General Medical Council, which registers doctors, has guidelines for medical schools saying that students with serious communicable diseases, such as HIV or some strains of hepatitis, should not undertake invasive or exposure-prone procedures. Thus, they will not meet GMC requirements to qualify for clinical medicine.

But the BMA students' committee accuses Cambridge University of going further. Its prospectus says that "there is an obligation on those at high risk from HIV infection to consider the implications for an intended career in clinical medicine".

Dan Atkinson, committee head, said: "They are saying that if you are gay or if your lifestyle puts you at higher risk of HIV, think again about medicine. Medical schools are taking the guidelines from the GMC further than was meant. We have written to Cambridge."

Hilary Curtis, executive director of the BMA Foundation on Aids, challenges the GMC and Cambridge's stance. The GMC, which has a responsibility for protecting patients, said it cannot modify its medical qualification requirements, nor offer a restricted form of provisional or full registration to medical students who cannot safely conduct surgical procedures.

But Ms Curtis said: "There is no doubt that once qualified, if you chose the right areas, it's perfectly possible to practise medicine with HIV or hepatitis with no risk to patients. Our view is it should be perfectly possible for the GMC to modify its requirements.

"We have a particular problem with the Cambridge prospectus, even accepting the GMC's position. What does it mean to say someone is at high risk? If it said 'if you have HIV', then our argument would be with the GMC not Cambridge, but to start talking about people at risk of HIV is inappropriate.

"This wording could be interpreted as an intention to discriminate against gay men and those coming from parts of Africa where HIV is prevalent. At 18 people's lives are not static. To talk about it in this way is inappropriate. We see it as a statement that declares Cambridge University doesn't care about discrimination," she added.

A spokesman from Cambridge University clinical school said the warning in its prospectus was purely practical. "It's GMC policy that students with infectious diseases that carry a risk to patients will not be permitted to qualify as doctors. We recognise that the needs of patients are paramount and the phrase 'those at high risk from HIV' is intended to merely point out to anyone (whatever their gender, race or sexual orientation) in a high-risk group that a career in clinical medicine is not viable if they contract the infection."

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