A hospital has apologised after nurses “needlessly” cut the beard of a Sikh pensioner who was being treated for a stroke and tried to hide what happened from his family.
The furious relatives of the 71-year-old man said because his facial hair was trimmed without permission or for any medical reason it amounted to a human rights violation.
Mr Singh was take to Northwick Park Hospital, Harrow, in August after his latest stroke and was then shortly moved to Hillingdon Hospital – run by the Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Trust.
While at Hillingdon hospital on September 28, staff tried to hide his face with a mask and only showed his eyes in a video call with his relatives, so his moustache and beard were not visible.
Sikhs show their devotion to God by not cutting or trimming their hair, meaning any attempt to do so is deeply offensive.
Mr Singh, who’s family do not want his full name used as he is still in hospital, said staff were rude and “had an attitude problem” when they tried to arrange Zoom calls.
Hillingdon Hospital was not allowing face-to-face visits with patients, leaving family members having to contact loved ones via video as recently as last month.
Manpreet Aujla said her father was very sensitive about his hair and beard and would not have consented to the trim had he been able to talk.
The dad-of-two from Southall, west London, has been unable to communicate and can only partially move his right arm since suffering five strokes and a bleed on the brain.
A complaint was made the following day to the ward manager and a video call showing his full face was allowed, the family claimed.
The hospital denies staff attempted to conceal the beard trim and said that wearing of face coverings in the hospital was standard practice.
Ms Aujla, 27, said: “They [staff] would only show his eyes in the video and he had a mask on pulled up to his eyes.
“I got a glimpse of his face and said ‘what’s happened to my dad’s beard?’ A ward manager said he was unaware it had been cut. I just started crying, I had never seen my dad like that. The whole family was so distressed.
“And I know it would really upset him because even if people mentioned trimming his beard he wouldn’t talk to them for ages. He didn’t like anyone even touching his beard. There’s no way he would have consented to that.
“When I asked why he had a face mask on, the staff said ‘because of Covid’, but no other patients had them on.
“When I asked them if there was a clinical need, there was no reason given. This would only have needed to be done if there was surgery being carried out. The manager just said ‘it will grown back’, which shows how little they understand about Sikhs.”
Ms Aujla added: “I think he was being discriminated against because he is not as active as he was last time he was in the hospital. I don’t think they were paying attention to him and were just leaving him and not doing much rehab.”
The Sikh Federation has also backed Mr Singh’s family and staff at Hillingdon Hospital will have known not to cut his hair as many observers of the religion live and work in the area.
The federation has written to health minister Sajid Javid and shadow minister, Jon Ashworth, calling for a full investigation into how the incident took place and what disciplinary action will be taken.
Bhai Amrik Singh, chair of the Sikh Federation UK said: “It is impossible to describe in words the impact on a Sikh of his hair being removed without consent and with no clinical reasoning. This is a gross violation of the patients’ human rights and his right to practice his faith for which heads must roll.
“We can only imagine the trauma of this outrageous act on the mental well-being of the 71-year old stroke victim who has already been suffering for over six weeks.
“His family are deeply upset by the actions of staff at Hillingdon Hospital who firstly completely disrespected their father’s faith followed by an attempted cover up that makes the situation even worse.”
Hillingdon Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust claimed it takes “equality and spiritual wellbeing extremely seriously” and has policies to safeguard religious beliefs and cultural practices.
A spokesman for the trust said: “We would like to apologise to the family for any distress we may have caused – this was an honest mistake made during our care for this patient and we have carried out an investigation into the incident, to learn from it and help ensure it does not happen again.
“We are in ongoing contact with the family and our chief executive, Patricia Wright, has also reached out to the Sikh Federation to discuss any broader concerns they may have.”