Sikhs do not need to compromise their faith by removing facial hair in NHS ‘Fit Tests’
It has come to our attention, that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, NHS Trusts around the United Kingdom will be carrying out ‘fit tests’ in which certain medical staff could be asked to remove facial hair. We understand the scientific and safety basis to this.
Whilst wearing a beard for many non-Sikhs may be due to choice or fashion, it is a pre-requisite to have a beard (and uncut hair) in an Amritdhari (“baptized”) Sikh. In the Sikh religion, assuming the orthodox route in life means you have made a solemn promise (in a formal religious ceremony akin to a wedding) to your Guru to maintain a strict code of conduct, one being uncut hair. This promise cannot be broken and is the overriding priority for a Sikh.
Hence, we are concerned that Sikh staff members (both male and female) being asked to remove their beard or facial hair will be negatively affected by the NHS “Fit Test” as such.
We have been in liaison with the Sikh Doctors Association who have informed us that the use of FFP3 masks is recommended to control the transmission of aerosolised pathogens, primarily as a prevention for the staff member. We understand that these are only effective with a clean seal between mask and face, rendering them ineffective in protecting Sikh healthcare staff with beards. Advice has been sought from the Director of Public Health in Birmingham, Dr Justin Varney, who appreciates the dilemma facing Sikhs.
For Sikhs, their duty of care is intrinsically interlinked with their faith. Therefore, we ask that no Sikh healthcare professional is forcibly made to choose between breaking their faith or breaking their frontline NHS role. Instead, NHS Trusts nationally should present them with the choice of being deployed in other settings, where the FFP3 mask IS NOT required. This will maintain NHS staff numbers, but solve the problem by re-distribution of carer tasks
We continue to be thankful and fully supportive of our NHS. We abide by Government law. We have continuously urged Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations to support the NHS by the provision of meals to hospitals and healthcare staff on duty.For any further clarification please contact Sukhvinder Singh (07973439227) who is our specialist advisor on issues relating to Equality and Human Rights.