Woman’s complaint leads to hospital policy change on female-only care

Woman’s complaint leads to hospital policy change on female-only care

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Melbourne hospital will now prioritise requests for a female doctor by women because of religious beliefs, cultural concerns or past trauma following a discrimination complaint assisted by Victoria Legal Aid.

Monash Health asked the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to review its policies about requests for female only care, after young mother Ziarata Zia made the complaint.

Victoria Legal Aid’s Equality Law program manager Melanie Schleiger said the outcome set a new benchmark in patient rights.

‘Providing health care professionals of the same gender can help ensure people get the medical treatment they need. The new policy will benefit a wide range of people, including those who have experienced torture, family violence and sexual abuse,’ she said.

The case drew attention to a policy that advised pregnant patients preferring care by a female midwife or doctor ‘for cultural or personal reasons’ that this was not possible at Monash Health and that they should consider ‘other options of care’.

In its review, the Commission said the policy created an ‘expectation that requests for female only care will not be accommodated for any patient, regardless of their circumstances’ and did not comply with the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 or the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

Monash Health has confirmed that it will implement the commission’s recommendations, including prioritising requests for same gender care where possible for people with specific religious or cultural needs or who have experienced trauma, except in a medical emergency.

Ms Zia is of the Muslim faith, has limited English and wears a niqab, which reveals only her eyes, hands and feet. She believes it is a sin to be seen without it, or touched by a male other than her husband or immediate family members, except in an emergency.

In 2013, a significant conflict arose during Ms Zia’s ante natal consultation at a Monash Health clinic because of her request for female-only care and the way the policy was explained to her. Ms Zia lodged a complaint with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. Victoria Legal Aid negotiated to resolve the matter before the hearing and helped her contribute to the Commission’s review.

Ms Zia welcomed Monash Health’s policy change.

‘I’m not scared to ask for a female doctor anymore and I’m relieved that other women won’t have the same experience I had,’ she said. ‘Health care is really important to me and my family but so are my religious beliefs. I don’t want to be forced to choose between them.’

Ms Schleiger praised the Commission for its work on the review and the hospital for adopting the findings. She commended Ms Zia, who came to Australia from Afghanistan in 2010, for her courage.

‘Victoria Legal Aid lawyers represent many people who have experienced discrimination, but it is hard to think of another case where so many will benefit from the determination of one woman,’ she said.

‘People who suffer discrimination, such as those who do not speak English, are also some of the community’s most vulnerable and often find it difficult to access services. It is really important that we are able to give them the legal help that they need.’

Was this helpful?