Medical schools denied this week that they sought to exclude Muslim students because of their refusal to undertake certain procedures, such as abortion.
Newspapers had earlier reported that Muslim students and doctors were angry that their beliefs were not accommodated in the medical curriculum while academics expressed concern that the curriculum was threatened.
Angela Lennox, head of the Centre for Studies in Community Healthcare at Warwick Leicester Medical Schools where 37 per cent of students are from ethnic minorities, said: "I work in an inner-city general practice where we have over 30 languages knocking at the door. Medical students are taught in teams with nurses and social workers in situations where patients are in the driving seat. They are taught to put the needs of the patient first and to acknowledge where their religious beliefs may limit a patient's options, and how to deal with this."
She said the General Medical Council guidance made it clear that doctors should be good at working in teams, communicating and diagnosing. "Our Muslim students do well on all these criteria," she said.
The Council of Heads of Medical Schools said in a statement this week that strongly held beliefs contributed to the ethics of care and clinical practice.
"There are well-established expectations, fully endorsed by the GMC, that in our diverse society patients must be allowed autonomy and practitioners must refer to others when a clinical decision within the law might transgress their own belief system," said Robert Boyd, chairman of the CHMS.
The CHMS said this week that no quota system existed to exclude certain types of student.
Janet Grant, director of the Open University Centre for Education in Medicine, whose research on applications to medical schools for the Department of Health was published last April, said: "Our research did show that the ratio of acceptances to applications varied between ethnic groups and that on this basis white students were more likely to get in than Asian or black students. But this bias is narrowing."
She said students from poorer social classes faced a similar bias but that this was also narrowing.
The report, An Analysis of Trends in Applications to Medical Schools , showed that in 2000, Asians formed 5.5 per cent of the general population, 26.4 per cent of applicants to medical schools and 25.6 per cent of acceptances.
Applications to medical schools
Acceptances to medical schools