Losing my religion: GP practice accused of discrimination wins legal fight with patient

The patient, who had a law degree, said he was upset after allegedly being asked about his religion.

A GP practice accused of discrimination by a patient after allegedly asking him about his religion has been cleared of wrongdoing by a tribunal.

The patient, whose name was suppressed, was asked to provide personal information for a patient form so that the practice could send his medical records to another GP.

The request included his date of birth, his name, ethnicity and country of birth, as well as his marital status and gender.

The international student from Canada, who held a law degree, claimed he was asked during a phone conversation with the practice “on or around August 2020 … to provide them my religion as well”.

“I found this to be discriminatory, offensive and odd,” he wrote in a submission to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Having accused the practice of breaching section 124 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld), he later added: “The conduct of the respondents [in this case] greatly affected me and caused me a considerable amount of damages and detriment.”

He said this “included, but was not limited to, emotional and mental distress, stress, anxiety, pain and suffering, humiliation, anguish, loss of enjoyment of life and exacerbation of medical conditions …”

A director of the clinic, who also worked as a GP, told the tribunal that it was “essential for the accurate identification of the patient” to request their name.

Birth and ethnicity were also “critical for assessing suitable treatment options and clinical risk factors”, he suggested.

He added that the patient’s sex was necessary for “accurately diagnosing the patient and considering appropriate treatment options”.

The tribunal accepted evidence that the practice did not, despite the patient’s allegation, request information about his religion — partly because the question was not included on any of its new patient forms.

But the GP said, even if the practice had asked, this would have been appropriate because religious beliefs could determine treatment choices.

He cited the use of blood products by Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The tribunal accepted his claim that he had never, in approximately 21 years of medical practice, been aware of any patient who had raised concerns with providing personal details on new patient forms.

The tribunal went on to reject a one-sentence medical report from a Canadian doctor that the patient had been “seen and assessed in our clinic. He suffered PTSD due to dealings from Surfers paradise clinic [sic].”

It said this sentence did not explain how the doctor had come to the diagnosis.

The tribunal calculated that it would have awarded the patient around $7500 in compensation if his claims against all three respondents targeted in the case had been successful.

But it rejected the patient’s claim, saying the information allegedly demanded was justifiable because it would be necessary to provide high-quality medical care.

As such, there was no breach of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld).

The tribunal issued a non-publication order that prevented naming of the patient, who had argued his mental health would have been impacted if his identity had been revealed.

Read more:

More information: Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal; 17 Nov 2023.