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Trust defends sacking nurse over religious behaviour

  • 12 Comments

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”

Sarah Kuteh

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”

Trust statement

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.

“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”.

  • 12 Comments

Readers' comments (12)

  • Is there any wonder the NHS is struggling to fill nursing posts.

    Sack someone for poor nursing care ( and sadly it does exist my own father died because of it). But it appears this poor lady was prompted into an exchange because of the tick box exercises we nurses have to do in the way of totally unneccessary form filling.

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  • No, she was dismissed because she ignored disciplinary action in the form of several warnings issued to her.
    Of course we don't know the full story, but I should imagine the decision wasn't easily reached.
    All she would need to ask is if they followed a religion or not. If not, tick no and move on. If they do, tick the appropriate box. I'm assuming nobody had a gun to her head and forced her into discussing her beliefs. If they wish to talk, then that's their choice, but if I were her patient I would be annoyed if she started preaching at me especially at a very stressful time. I would feel disrespected that a stranger was forcing her own beliefs on me and not respecting my choice not to have a faith.

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  • The nurse in question seems to think she was discussing her beliefs with the patients, but discussion is a two way exchange and what she was doing was telling patients about her beliefs, that was not her job. She is free to do that outside the hospital when not in uniform, she can approach people in the street, stand on a soap box or knock on peoples doors if she so wishes. However when in her uniform her job is to run through the pre assessment form prior to the patient having a procedure. Obviously she made some patients uncomfortable, maybe more than actually complained. I feel sorry for her as I am sure she is a nice person and probably a very good nurse, but in this instance the hospital was right and she was wrong.

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  • This is incredibly difficult story to have an opinion on without further information, and as an atheist I would hasten to say that I have my own somewhat negative opinion on 'preachy' professionals.

    However, if these conversations were consensual, and were about inspiring hope and spirituality in the face of unbearable suffering, then I can see no reason why this lady has been disciplined so badly.

    Where the line is crossed is when clinicians press ahead with religious opinions without awareness of another's faith, background or state of mind. Perhaps this is a lesson on self-awareness. Spouting religious opinions without consent or reciprocity has no place in the client/professional relationship, and can be disempowering, alienating and even offensive.

    I am reminded of a friend of mines community psychiatric nurse, who regularly used the phrase 'God bless you', and spoke about God on numerous occasions during their consultations. Not only did this offend my friend, but also left her with less confidence about the nurses ability to fully understand her, her illness, and her own secular beliefs.

    Tolerance of one another's faith must be ultimately respected in what is a huge organisation, but also individual professionals should be cautious about the sometimes disempowering nature of their own beliefs when dealing with vulnerable people.

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  • Surely it needs to be.about her patient's beliefs. I am a non-believer but would not discuss this with a patient. Surely it is about us identifying the spiritual and religious beliefs that are important to the person; facilitating opportunities to practice in an alien setting as part of holistic care? Would we discuss politics or any other potentially divisive issue?

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  • This nurse says she compelled to discuss her religious belief because it was on the pre-assessment form. The 1948 NHS Act requires that we ask about the religion of our patients. It could be construed as a tick box exercise but for some it is important.

    However, this nurse crossed the line. She is not paid to give her personal belief. I would have been extremely upset when I was about to go in for a fourteen hour, double mastectomy and reconstruction operation, if a nurse imposed their view on me.

    Her arrogant assertion that her religious view, would, in any way, be important to me at such a time, is truly shocking. She left the Trust with no option but to dismiss her. We need to preserve the rights of all our patients and not have someone with their own agenda care for us.

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  • This nurse says she was compelled to discuss her religious belief because it was on the pre-operative assessment form. The 1948 NHS Act enshrines the requirement that we ask about the religion of our patients. It could be construed as a tick box exercise but for some it is important.

    However, this nurse crossed the line. She is not paid to give her personal belief. I would have been extremely upset when I was about to go in for a fourteen hour, double mastectomy and reconstruction operation, if a nurse imposed their view on me.

    Her arrogant assertion that her religious view, would, in any way, be important to me at such a time, is truly shocking. She left the Trust with no option but to dismiss her. We need to preserve the rights of all our patients and not have someone with their own agenda care for us.

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  • I, in common with many other nurses, also profess to hold Christian beliefs, but I would not have behaved in the way that Sarah Kuteh appears to have done. To me, the important thing is to behave with kindness and sensitivity to my patients; if I sense that they are anxious or afraid, I would try to explain how hospital procedures work, and try to reassure them that, as far as at all possible, their questions will be answered, and their needs met, and how this would be achieved. A perceived need for any religious support could appropriately be met by asking the patient if they would like to be referred to a hospital chaplain of a faith of their choice; the answer, in a pre-assessment clinic, might well be 'not now, thank you', but the patient would have been made aware that this option is available, should they later wish to avail themself of it. I believe my role, as a nurse, is to show kindness and compassion, but not to attempt to evangelise or preach: patients come to hospitals for treatment and care; they will go to a religious professional, or establishment, if seeking religious help. [Just my personal view, but hopefully legitimate, and in keeping with the Code of Conduct].

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  • What about meeting patients needs? We are to meet spiritual needs along with physical and what harm can telling someone about Jesus's do? What about freedom of speech? Well, thankfully, Parliament have agreed that we should ALL have the freedom to speak of our faith. Patients are not being FORCED to listen or respond. Many are happy for a little prayer during surgery

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  • It is a SHAME that this poor lady was sacked for lifting up the dying spirit of patients at the point of their needs. We seem only to be ticking the boxes of patients' other needs but ignoring the spiritual aspect. No wonder, the whole world is 'sick'.

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