Complaint sparks change in major hospital’s female-only care policy

   An unidentified female doctor in a white coat holds a stethoscope towards the camera.

A major Melbourne hospital will give priority to requests for female-only care on cultural or personal grounds after a pregnant patient complained about treatment.

Ziarata Zia lodged the complaint with Victoria’s Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) after her visit to Monash Health in 2013.

Ms Zia is Muslim and believes it is a sin to be touched by a man who is not her husband or close family.

But lawyers say a “significant conflict” arose when she requested female-only care.

The matter was settled, but it prompted a review of the hospital’s policies by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.

As a result of the review, the hospital said it would now give priority to requests for a female doctor because of religious or cultural beliefs or past trauma.

“We recognise that for cultural, religious or personal reasons a patient may ask to be seen by a carer of the same gender,” Monash Women’s director Professor Euan Wallace said.

“We will try to accommodate these requests whenever possible.”

Professor Wallace said the hospital had been “clumsy” in communicating the choices on offer to its patients.

“I think what’s come out of the review is that some of that hasn’t been as visible as we’d like it to have been to the women we care for,” he said.

“Essentially we’re making the choices available to women more visible.”

In a statement, Ms Zia said she welcomed the hospital’s policy rethink.

“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.

Melanie Schleiger from Victoria Legal Aid said it took courage for Ms Zia to speak up.

“This is a fantastic outcome, we’re really pleased,” she said.

“I have a huge amount of respect for Ms Zia.

“It took a tremendous amount of courage to make a complaint of discrimination and she was very keen to see the situation changed for the benefit of other people.”