UK
19/09/2013 04:15 BST | Updated 19/09/2013 04:21 BST

Hospital Staff Veil Investigation Ordered By Health Minister Dan Poulter

NHS burka debate
PA
NHS burka debate

The question of whether doctors and other hospital staff should be able to wear full-face veils has been raised by a Conservative minister.

Dan Poulter has ordered a review of the current policies and asked NHS regulators to devise new uniform rules.

But then his boss, health secretary Jeremy Hunt, said politicians should not wade into the sensitive debate.

Hunt told the Today programme: "I think this should be a professional, not a political matter."

It comes after the Daily Telegraph claimed 17 hospitals had already implemented a "secret" ban on face coverings for staff.

The paper said the "secret" bans had been "quietly" implemented, which is paper speak for saying it had not been aware of the policy.

Poulter, the health minister, said it was important to ensure that patients always have "appropriate face to face contact".

"I am proud of the rich ethnic diversity of our health care workforce and support appropriate religious and cultural freedoms, but a vital part of good patient care is effective verbal and non-verbal communication," he told The Daily Telegraph.

"Being unable to see a health care professional's face can be a barrier to good and empathetic communication with

patients and their families.

"That is why I am writing to all health care regulators to ask them to look into this matter and to review their professional regulations, to ensure that there is always appropriate face to face contact between health care professionals and their patients."

A ban on staff wearing the full-face veil when dealing with patients has already been introduced at 17 NHS hospitals, according to the newspaper.

Home Secretary Theresa May insisted it is for women to ''make a choice'' about what clothes they wear, including veils, but said there will be some circumstances when it will be necessary to ask for them to be removed.

Earlier this week a judge ruled that a Muslim woman will be allowed to stand trial while wearing a full-face veil but must remove it while giving evidence.

The ruling followed calls by Home Office Minister Jeremy Browne for a national debate on whether the state should step in to prevent young women having the veil imposed upon them.