Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust has defended its decision to sack a nurse who discussed her Christian beliefs and offered to pray with patients before surgery.
Sarah Kuteh was employed in the surgical pre-assessment unit at the trust’s Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, where she was responsible for running through a pre-operative questionnaire that includes a question about religion.
“I would always ask the patient if they were comfortable and most of them were”
She claims the question sparked natural discussion about faith and she was providing reassurance to patients, who were often facing a “life-changing, devastating diagnosis”.
However, she was warned to stop “preaching” at patients by her manager following complaints. The trust claimed her behaviour did not change and it “had no option” but to embark on a disciplinary process, which ultimately resulted in her being dismissed.
The trust has also referred Ms Kuteh to the regulator the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Ms Kuteh, who claims the trust’s investigation was flawed, is now taking her case to an employment tribunal with the backing of the Christian Legal Centre.
She has made an online video setting out her case, in which she says she enjoys nursing “very, very much”.
“Regrettably there was no change in her conduct”
In the video – posted on the website of campaigning organisation Christian Concern – she says she has been nursing for about 15 years, including 14 in intensive care, and only recently moved into pre-operative assessment.
“I am very passionate about nursing, and the reason I am is because hospitals are not a usual environment and it is the sort of place that just makes some people feel out of place,” she said.
“What nursing does is it gives me that opportunity to just step into the patient’s shoes for that moment while they are there, discuss their diagnosis with them, talk to them, encourage them, empower them, reassure them that things are not quite as bad as they may be,” said Ms Kuteh.
She said the only reason she discussed religion with patients was because it was mentioned in the pre-op questionnaire.
“I discussed my religion with the patient and how I found Jesus Christ and how much peace I have, especially when patients come to me feeling really, really devastated,” she said. “I have had to reassure them based on the joy and peace that I really have found in the Lord.”
She said had taken on board concerns from her manager in person and in a letter. “From that moment on, I would always say to the patient or ask the patient if they were comfortable and most of them were,” she said.
However, the trust said it had acted appropriately and “in the best interests of patients” by dismissing her.
“We have a duty to our patients to ensure that when they are at their most vulnerable, they are not exposed to the unsolicited beliefs and/or views of others, religious or otherwise,” it said in a statement.
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“Sarah Kuteh’s dismissal was not because of any religious belief she held, but how these beliefs were being conveyed to patients,” said the trust.
“Following several complaints from patients that the conversations were excessive, unwanted and not consensual, her line manager directed her to concentrate on her nursing duties and refrain from preaching to patients,” it said.
It added: “Regrettably there was no change in her conduct and the trust felt it had no option but to handle her behaviour through the disciplinary process which resulted in her dismissal.”
The trust said it had referred the case to the regulator because Ms Kuteh’s actions breached the NMC’s code of conduct.
Under the code, nurses must ensure they do not express personal beliefs, including political, religious or moral beliefs, “to people in an appropriate way”.