THE backlash against the veil grew yesterday as it was banned from hospitals.
Muslim medical students were barred from wearing it when they talk to hospital patients.
The move was ordered to "help to aid good communications" between Muslim medical students, their colleagues and patients.
Details of the purge of faceless medics surfaced as the nationwide storm about Islamic veils continued.
Race minister Phil Woolas demanded the sacking of a primary school teaching assistant suspended for refusing to remove her veil in classes.
He said Aishah Azmi, 24, "put herself in a position where she can’t do her job" at the Church of England school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire.
Also, Shadow Home Secretary David Davis accused Muslim leaders of taking Britain towards "voluntary apartheid" by expecting preferential treatment.
The bar on a full-face veil was ordered at Birmingham University school of medicine. Chiefs decided that Islamic women can cover their faces in lectures and around campus but not in the "clinical environments" of hospital buildings and GPs’ surgeries.
Its women Muslim students must show their faces if they are talking to patients in hospital or surgery or if they are in meetings with other medical staff.
The school has 450 students of all faiths and sends them for practice to a number of different hospitals and primary care units, including the University Hospital of Birmingham NHS Trust.
Only in the sterile surroundings of an operating theatre can they cover their faces – with regulation surgical masks.
A spokesman said: "We do not place restrictions on the wearing of headscarves by staff or students, except in cases where they are required to work in a clinical environment.
"This is particularly the case when it involves direct contact with patients. In these cases students are allowed to wear a headdress as part of their religious observance, as long as it does not cover the face.
"This is necessary to help aid communications with patients and other colleagues."
Last year, Imperial College in London banned students from wearing Islamic headscarves in a security clampdown in the wake of the London suicide bombings.
Security guards were ordered to challenge "unrecognisable individuals" and throw them off the campus if they refused to expose their faces – despite protests from the college’s large Islamic contingent.
But the issue has sparked debate among young Muslims who are studying to become doctors and conflict has arisen between students and patients.
One report in the student version of the British Medical Journal outlined the difficulties witnessed by students and fully-trained staff.
"Although no one is deliberately obstructive or discriminatory against such students, there is a tension between the needs of the students, the expectations of the medical profession and the needs and expectations of the patients," it said.
Aideen Soke, policy officer for the Council of Heads of medical Schools, told the magazine: "Most schools would expect students’ faces to be visible at all times.
"When this was discussed by the council’s education sub-committee, it was believed that covering the face while meeting a patient is unacceptable as it breaches the duty ‘to make the care of the patient your first concern’ and to ‘make sure your personal beliefs do not prejudice your patient’s care’.
"There was general agreement that many patients would be upset by meeting a student or doctor who insisted on keeping their face covered."
Although the General Medical Council has not published any guidance on the issue, it has issued a statement warning of the possible dangers.
It said: "We do not consider that wearing a face veil, in and of itself, necessarily has any effect on a doctor’s ability to practise medicine.
"However, good communication between patients and doctors is essential to effective care and relationships of trust, and patients may find that a face veil presents an obstacle to effective communication."
Yesterday, Birmingham’s move was backed by Higher Education Minister Bill Rammell who said he supported universities which banned Muslim students and staff from wearing the veil.
"Many teachers would feel uncomfortable about their ability to teach students who were covering their faces," he said.
Muslim Labour MP Khalid Mahmood, whose constituency is in Birmingham, said: "We have to consider the safety and security of all, as there are times when people must be identified.
"Removal is fine where professional issues are called into question, when doctors and nurses meet with patients."
The debate was sparked by Commons Leader Jack Straw’s admission that he asked Muslim women to remove their veils at his constituency surgeries.
Former Home Secretary Mr Straw said he felt the veil made community relations "difficult" and removing it would improve communication. On Saturday, scores of Muslims protested outside Mr Straw’s morning surgery in Blackburn.
Shadow Home Secretary Mr Davis warned that isolated Muslim communities would create more home-grown terrorists and claimed Labour had a "confused, confusing and counter-productive attitude towards integration".
Muslim leaders risked "voluntary apartheid" in Britain and there was a feeling that some expected special protection from criticism, he said.
He added: "Religious leaders have to understand that they should not try to change Britain."
Source: Daily Express (English)