Doctors and counter-terrorism

GPs object to being signed up to anti-extremism strategy, reports Mark Metcalf

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Government plans to force GP practices to appoint someone responsible for counter-terrorism in order to receive extra funding have been condemned by doctors as bureaucratic and a threat to their ethical responsibilities.

Three years ago, the Home Office asked doctors and other health professionals to identify patients viewed as “vulnerable to radicalism” as part of counter-terrorism strategy Prevent.

NHE England has now told clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that GPs seeking extra funding to provide enhanced services – such as extended hours, violent patient schemes and support for people with dementia – must also name a member of staff to take a lead on Prevent.

According to an NHS England spokesperson: “Prevent seeks to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism by ensuring they get appropriate advice… The health sector needs to respond to these risks and enable healthcare workers to identify and provide support for those vulnerable to radicalisation.

‘Wastes time’

“Given the importance of the agenda and the role that healthcare staff have to play in protecting vulnerable people, Prevent is now part of the standard NHS contract.” But one GP, who wished to remain anonymous, questioned whether the requirement was a late April Fools’ joke.

“This just wastes time,” she said. “Primary care faces an escalating workload, demoralised doctors, nurses and support staff and a constantly shifting set of performance targets, some of which seem to have little bearing on direct patient care. So this does not surprise me.

“How we are supposed to act if we feel a patient is ‘at risk’ is unclear and there are questions about how objective assessments by clinicians can be. After all, there will be no physical signs and there are real risks that hamfisted allegations are made by inexperienced clinicians focusing on certain ethnic minorities.”

The GP’s comments were endorsed by the British Medical Association, which represents over 150,000 doctors. Its spokesperson said: “GPs’ primary job is to ensure patients get the best possible care and not to undertake roles they are unqualified for and which could interfere with their ethical responsibilities. We also do not need another cumbersome, bureaucratic requirement when there is rising patient demand and falling resources.”


The Prevent programme was established after the 2005 London bombings as part of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy to prevent Muslim radicalisation. Organisations such as the Institute of Race Relations believe the programme has been used to establish an elaborate system of surveillance.

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