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Prevent anti-extremism strategy could threaten trust in doctors

Published 19/10/2016

John Middleton says the Prevent strategy could breed distrust and create a
John Middleton says the Prevent strategy could breed distrust and create a "serious public health problem" particularly among Muslim communities

The Government's counter-extremism strategy could threaten the trust and confidentiality between doctors and their patients, a public health leader has warned.

Professor John Middleton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said the Prevent strategy, which calls for medics to tell the authorities of anyone they believe is at risk of being drawn into terrorism, is a flawed way to tackle homegrown terrorism.

He said it could breed mistrust and create a "serious public health problem", particularly among Muslim communities.

Prof Middleton said the level of concern or evidence required for a health professional to act is much lower than that normally needed to override the common law duty of confidentiality.

Prof Middleton wrote in The Lancet: "Prevent risks undermining the trust that patients have in health professionals. Distrust will be generated not only with respect to the patient whose confidentiality is breached, but also with respect to the larger community which the professional services."

He continued: "Such an approach is likely to discourage patients from providing relevant information to doctors and to deter them from accessing health care.

"Prevent risks creating a serious public health problem, particularly with respect to Muslim communities which are already disadvantaged by higher rates of reported ill-health and poverty as compared to other religious groups in the UK."

He urged officials to look at issues such as education and job opportunities.

"Rather than a top-down approach that opportunistically targets particular communities for combating terrorism, we need to address the problems that communities themselves say they are experiencing at a local level."

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