Muslim doctors and nurses have been allowed to opt-out of NHS hygiene rules in a move that has been blasted by critics as double standards.
Critics compared the opt-out given to Muslims to cases of Christians being marginalised by the NHS.
NHS guidance to curb the spread of superbugs in hospitals states that staff must be “bare below the elbow”.
But Muslim staff have been given an exemption to the rule and will be allowed to wear disposable over sleeves instead.
Sikh doctors and nurses have also been told they can wear a bangle around their arm, as long as they push it up when treating a patient.
Former Conservative Minister Ann Widdecombe said: “Minority groups are unquestionably getting more sensitive treatment than Christians and this is yet more proof.”
And Dr Andrew Fergusson of the Christian Medical Fellowship, which represents 4,000 doctors, said that “Christians in health care seem to be particularly vulnerable at the moment”.
The move was also slammed by an anti-superbug campaign group. MRSA Action UK’s chairman said: “My worry is that allowing some medics to use disposable sleeves you compromise patient safety because unless you change the sleeves between each patient, you spread bacteria.
“Scrubbing bare arms is far more effective”, he added.
Since 2007 many hospitals have insisted that staff involved in patient care wear short sleeves at all times.
The move came in an attempt to combat superbugs, such as MRSA.
However, following reported objections by Muslims, health officials drew up revised rules on the advice of Islamic scholars and a group called Muslim Spiritual Care Provision in the NHS (MSCP), which is part of the Muslim Council of Britain.
A working party was set up comprising two Health Department officials, a member of the Health Protection Agency, two female Muslim hospital chaplains, an Imam and two members of MSCP.
The revised guidance was issued on 26 March.
The Department of Health said: “We recognise that elements of the additional guidance could be seen to be introducing differing requirements for those to whom ‘baring below the elbows’ presents no significant problem.
“We have considered the implications of this possibility but concluded that the overall purpose of the guidance, to ensure patient safety by adherence to good hand hygiene, is not prejudiced by the additional dress options that have now been identified.”
Christian nurse Caroline Petrie was suspended for offering to pray for a patient in 2008.
Mrs Petrie, a committed Christian and married mother of two, insisted that she never forces her religious beliefs on anyone.
But she was investigated by North Somerset Primary Care Trust after offering to pray for one of her patients at the end of a home visit.
The Trust invited Mrs Petrie back to work after widespread media coverage of her story.