Boys face serious complications from circumcision, complaints show
Posted: Thu, 19th Jan 2023
Dozens of children are suffering life-threatening, painful and permanent complications from religious circumcisions performed by doctors, the National Secular Society can reveal.
The General Medical Council (GMC), which regulates doctors in the UK, dealt with 39 complaints relating to 30 doctors regarding circumcisions between 2012 and 2022, according to information seen by the NSS in a Freedom of Information disclosure.
The complaints include incidents in which children's penises were left deformed and babies required blood transfusions.
Many of the circumcisions on babies and children are thought to have been performed for religious and cultural reasons only and were not medically necessary.
Babies and children suffer pain, bleeding and deformity
Many complaints to the GMC referred to circumcisions which led to excessive bleeding, sometimes requiring hospitalisation and blood transfusions.
One doctor's "substandard" circumcision resulted in "urinary complications" and "physical deformity" to the child's penis. Another complaint said a botched circumcision required a child to undergo further surgery. In another, a baby needed "specialist intervention" to repair his penis.
In one case a doctor reportedly used "inappropriate restraint techniques", including "using non clinical staff to restrain child patients". The Royal College of Nursing has told the NSS restrictive physical interventions should not be used in non-therapeutic circumstances that are either not an emergency or urgent.
Some complaints referred to patients suffering "excessive pain" or a lack of adequate pain relief.
Other complaints involved doctors using unsterile equipment, and several said patients suffered infections after being circumcised.
One baby reportedly suffered bad burns from a heater or lamp in the room during the procedure.
Some complaints referred to multiple circumcisions performed by the same doctor. The allegations against one doctor related to eight children.
The GMC provided the names of two doctors subject to the complaints who had been struck off after botching circumcisions.
In 2013 a baby was admitted to hospital after being circumcised by Sam Neriman at his "dedicated Circumcision Clinic" in London. A fitness to practise panel found Neriman failed to stop the baby's bleeding effectively before discharging him.
In 2015 Muhamad Siddiqui was struck off following complaints made about four circumcisions he performed on infants as part of his "Mobile Children's Circumcision Service". His repeated failings included performing the procedure in unhygienic conditions and without proper health checks or emergency medical equipment.
In one case, he failed to recognise a baby was having a seizure resulting from a local anaesthetic and therefore did not act immediately to ensure an ambulance was called.
In another, he did not check whether the local anaesthetic was working when the baby screamed during the procedure, and continued to cut his foreskin regardless.
Siddiqui is facing prosecution on 39 charges, including actual bodily harm.
A previous NSS Freedom of Information request revealed eleven boys had been admitted to one hospital in 2011 alone with life threatening haemorrhage or sepsis following circumcision.
The NSS's findings echo concerns raised in 2014 by NHS paediatric surgeon Shiban Ahmed. He claimed some circumcisions in the UK were "barbaric and amateurish" and had resulted in "children [being] maimed for life".
Although proponents of circumcision claim the procedure is safe, the Medical Protection Society, an insurance company for doctors, states it carries "considerable risks and complications".
Many circumcisions 'medically unnecessary'
The GMC does not collect data on which circumcisions are performed for medical reasons, and which are performed for religious or cultural reasons only, with no medical need.
But several of the complaints specify the circumcisions were "religious" or performed at home. Circumcisions would only be performed at home if they were requested for religious or cultural reasons.
Furthermore, the NSS said it is likely many, if not most, of the circumcisions performed on babies and young children were carried out for religious and cultural reasons, rather than out of medical necessity. This is because there is only one medical condition, pathological phimosis, that categorically requires circumcision. This condition is "unusual before five years of age" according to circumcision guidance from the Royal College of Surgeons of England.
Ritual circumcisions on boys are most common among Jewish, Muslim and some African Christian communities, where they are often considered a religious obligation.
Complaints filed with the GMC only relate to circumcisions performed by qualified doctors. Many religious and cultural circumcisions in the UK are performed by people without medical qualifications and so are neither regulated nor recorded.
All forms of ritual genital cutting on girls are prohibited in the UK by anti-FGM (female genital mutilation) laws. But religious and cultural circumcision on male babies and children is permitted, including by non-doctors.
In 2015 the High Court ruled that nontherapeutic male circumcision, no matter how competently performed, constitutes "significant harm". The High Court further concluded that to claim male circumcision is less invasive or harmful than some forms of FGM would be "irrational".
In a 2018 YouGov survey, 62% of people in the UK said they would support a law prohibiting the circumcision of children for non-medical reasons.
NSS: 'Protect boys from religious genital cutting'
NSS campaigns officer Dr Alejandro Sanchez said: "These complaints lay bare the dangers of medically unnecessary circumcision in babies and children. It is a myth that circumcision is simple and safe.
"Subjecting a non-consenting child to a painful, dangerous and irreversible procedure to satisfy the religious wishes of parents flies in the face of medical ethics and child rights.
"These findings are almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. They are only the complaints brought against medically trained professionals. The harms caused by non-medically trained individuals, who under the law can also carry out circumcision, hardly bear thinking about.
"The medical establishment and the government must now act, as they have done with FGM, to protect boys from medically unnecessary religious and cultural genital cutting."