First appeared the press release, dated November 28, 2007:

Nurses and other staff at Dewsbury and District Hospital are taking part in a training course to develop their cultural understanding as part of The Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust's continued commitment to meet the privacy and dignity needs of all their patients.

The training has been introduced after Catherine Briggs, hospital matron at Dewsbury and District Hospital, met with members of the black and ethnic minority community including patients, local groups and a local GP to find out what staff can do to further improve patients' experience.

Matron Briggs said: "I was very pleased to hear that many of our past patients said that overall they were very happy with the care provided to them at our hospital. Some of our former Muslim patients also suggested that a more informed understanding of the Islamic cultures would help staff to further improve their service."

This goes on to describe "changes that the hospital has already made for their Muslim patients," including:

  • Positioning the beds of very ill Muslim patients to face Mecca if requested by the patient
  • Providing shower facilities for patients, as well as bathing facilities
  • Providing halal meal options for patients.

Then came an article in London's Daily Express describing additional requirement to supply "fresh (read: running) bathing water" with which to perform the ablutions required for prayers. "Turmoil" is how it's summed up at Express. And still, one reads:

Mid-Yorkshire NHS (National Health Service) Trust says the rule must be instigated whenever possible to ensure Muslim patients have "a more comfortable stay in hospital." And a taxpayer-funded training programme for several hundred hospital staff has begun to ensure that all are familiar with the workings of the Muslim faith. The scheme is initially being run at Dewsbury and District Hospital, West Yorkshire, but is set to be introduced at other hospitals in the new year.

More striking still was mention of the modesty imperative that entails the "introduction in some NHS hospitals last year of Burka-style gowns for Muslim patients who did not wish medical staff to see their face while operating or caring for them." This is of a piece with another suggestion, reported by Express, that steps be taken to ensure that only female staff and physicians administer to Muslim women.

Although the Trust, which also oversees hospitals in Wakefield and Pontefract, could not guarantee women-only doctors, they agreed that "wherever possible" specific patient requests would be carried out.

An unnamed nurse concedes: "It would be easier to create Muslim-only wards with every bed facing Mecca than have to deal with this."

Comment: Our nurse may well be on to something. The story broke in October 2006 of plans for a Muslim-only clinic in immigrant-heavy Rotterdam, where Muslims comprise nearly a quarter of the residents. This would come complete with gender-segregated wings, a halal kitchen, and a duty roster of imams. Party for Freedom leader Geert Wilders describes plans for the south Rotterdam clinic as "a step backwards to the Middle Ages," and even (in Dutch), apartheid.

Health-industry entrepreneur Paul Sturkenboom claims that, like Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish services before it: "This compact hospital will give Muslims time to integrate at their own speed."

Update: In reply to coverage in the Express and elsewhere, the Mid Yorkshire NHS Trust published an addendum to the November press release, dated December 4, 2007. This reads:

A number of media have today ran an entirely inaccurate story claiming that we have ordered staff to move Muslim patients' beds to face towards Mecca. This has stemmed from the above press release. We wanted to make sure that you understand the correct position and this story is completely untrue.

Tracey McErlain-Burns, our chief nurse and director of patient experience, said: "Our statement has been wrongly interpreted. The Muslim Moulana at Dewsbury and District Hospital is holding internal workshops for nurses to help develop their cultural understanding. Nurses are not being removed from their duties to move patients' beds towards Mecca. Moving patients' beds for prayer five times a day has not been suggested as part of this workshop and staff have not been ordered to do this.

"In the context of responding to requests from patients and families, particularly when faced with a very ill patient, it is entirely reasonable that nurses consider all practical steps to meet a patient's cultural or religious needs. This may include adjusting the position of the bed, or escorting the patient to the chapel or faith centre."

Comment: Hospital staff are not "ordered" to move patient beds throughout day, fine; but the fact remains that as accommodations of this sort become more and more commonplace—and undertaken for reasons of preemption and sensitivity—the organized and belligerent will have little left to argue. In this instance, for example,

The changes [were] instigated by Dewsbury and District Hospital's chief matron, Catherine Briggs, after she held a series of consultation meetings with local Asian GPs, ethnic minority patients groups and Muslim chaplain Ilyas Dalal to find out what staff could do to further improve Muslim patients' experience of the NHS.

For this reason, Conservative MP David Davies describes the plan, not as evidence of Islamist might, but of "kow-towing to the politically correct brigade." He then resignedly suggests that family members give the nurses a break by making prayer arrangements on their own.