London, Feb.4 : Muslim women training in several hospitals in England have objected 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".
According to a report in The Telegraph, the measure has been 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. Sheffield University also reported a case of a Muslim medic who refused to "scrub" as this left her forearms exposed.
Documents from Birmingham University reveal that some students would prefer to quit the course rather than expose their arms, and warn that it could leave trusts open to legal action.
Hygiene experts said last night that no exceptions should be made on religious grounds.
"Perhaps these women should not be choosing medicine as a career if they feel unable to abide by the guidelines that everyone else has to follow," they said.
But the Islamic Medical Association insisted that covering all the body in public, except the face and hands, was a basic tenet of Islam.
Dr Majid Katme, the association spokesman, said: "Exposed arms can pick up germs and there is a lot of evidence to suggest skin is safer to the patient if covered. One idea might be to produce long, sterile, disposable gloves which go up to the elbows."