RCGP 'reviewing' links with Brunei amid anger over LGBT laws

Author: Mark Gould
RCGP 'reviewing' links with Brunei amid anger over LGBT laws

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) has become embroiled in the controversy over Brunei which has implemented Sharia law making gay sex punishable by death. While homosexuality was already illegal in the Brunei, entailing up to a decade of imprisonment, the full Sharia penal code was implemented amid widespread condemnation last week. Lesbian sex also includes a punishment of 40 strokes of the cane.

A petition launched by trainee GP Dr Hollie Rolland urging the RCGP to rescind the "Companion of the College" honour awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 2013 has gained over 3,700 signatures since it was launched last week.

The petition has received a significant amount of support across social media, with GPs commenting: "should the college not rescind his title, I will cancel my membership" and "I’m a doctor and humanist. Religious and sexual freedoms are well-established human rights. The UK royal medical colleges and universities have a duty of care to publicly stand up for human rights over their financial interests."

And it has emerged that the RCGP accepted a "large" donation from the Sultan after the college made the award. In a press release at the time, it was stated that the Sultan made a "significant donation to the College's fundraising appeal and the new 300 seater auditorium at 30 Euston Square, centrepiece of the College’s conference facilities has been named in his honour."

It is not currently confirmed how much the exact figure was, but a report in GP magazine says that according to Charity Commission accounts in 2014, the RCGP received £1,812,088 in voluntary income, a much larger figure than 2014’s donations (£364,445).

The family of the Sultan, who is also the prime minister, has ruled Brunei for over 600 years, and he has received various honours in the UK, including a knighthood from the Queen and an Honorary Doctorate from universities including Oxford and King’s College London, both of whom are also under pressure to revoke the title.

In a statement RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, said: "We would like to clarify the action that the College is taking in light of the latest developments in Brunei.

"We are all shocked by the situation and have said publicly that we categorically condemn these actions.

"We are urgently reviewing the situation at the highest levels. The challenge we have is that it takes time to get the necessary advice and to get the relevant people together to make decisions about all the options we have to consider. As the College is a registered charity, we also have to comply with charity law and governance.

"I appreciate that this is frustrating, but I promise our members that I am doing all I can to hasten the process so that we reach firm conclusions as swiftly as is safe and responsible to do so. I will, of course, communicate the decisions to all our members as soon as we can.

"We are a diverse and inclusive College and are very proud of our strong LGBT+ community of doctors and staff. We abhor any form of human rights abuse."

In 2014, RCGP was also heavily criticised for refusing to revoke the Sultan’s title. At this time, they claimed that he was "committed to raising healthcare standards in his country".

In a statement issued on Friday the College said it was an organsiation committed to raising standards of healthcare for patients all over the world, and to this end has had a formal collaboration with Brunei for more than 10 years supporting the development of primary care and the training of GPs in the country.

"There are excellent GPs in Brunei who are members and fellows of the College and who need our support at a difficult time," it said.

"We abhor any abuse of human rights and categorically condemn the recent developments in Brunei. We wish to reassure our GP members, our staff, and all other organisations who work with us, that this is being discussed with urgency at the highest levels of the College.

"It is in all our interests that we reach a speedy resolution, but it is imperative that we work with other organisations, not least the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, to ensure that any decision does not compromise our colleagues working in Brunei or the work that the College is doing there to improve the care of patients."