Muslim medical students are refusing to obey hygiene rules brought in to stop the spread of deadly superbugs, because they say it is against their religion.
Women training in several hospitals in England have raised objections to removing their arm coverings in theatre and to rolling up their sleeves when washing their hands, because it is regarded as immodest in Islam.
Universities and NHS trusts fear many more will refuse to co-operate with new Department of Health guidance, introduced this month, which stipulates that all doctors must be "bare below the elbow".
The measure is deemed necessary to stop the spread of infections such as MRSA and Clostridium difficile, which have killed hundreds.
Minutes of a clinical academics' meeting at Liverpool University revealed that female Muslim students at Alder Hey children's hospital had objected to rolling up their sleeves to wear gowns.
Similar concerns have been raised at Leicester University. Minutes from a medical school committee said that "a number of Muslim females had difficulty in complying with the procedures to roll up sleeves to the elbow for appropriate handwashing".