The story of the Christian nurse, now suspended from duty for six weeks for offering to pray with a patient, has been headline news all week. Mrs Caroline Petrie is a 45 year old community nurse employed through their bank system by North Somerset Primary Care Trust to carry out home visits.
After completing a dressing on a visit in December to an elderly woman, she politely inquired if the patient wanted her to pray for her – either in her presence or after she had left the patient's home. The patient declined, but has since stated she was not offended. She happened to mention the offer to the nurse who came the next day, and the subsequent report went back up the chain at the PCT.
Caroline has been accused by her employers of failing to demonstrate a 'personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity', was suspended from her part-time job (and being a bank nurse this meant without pay) on 17 December, and faced an internal disciplinary meeting on 28 January. She expects to learn the outcome very soon and could lose her job over the incident. Details can be found in the Sunday Telegraph front page story on 1 February.
CMF had been in touch with Caroline from an early point and had put her in touch with the Christian Legal Centre who have given her support and advice. A CMF press release on Monday 2 February attracted significant coverage
CMF General Secretary Peter Saunders was quoted as saying there were thousands of Christian healthcare workers and those of other faiths for whom prayer was a normal daily part of their lives. 'Suspension simply for inquiring about the appropriateness of prayer is not only an act of religious discrimination but will undermine the proper provision of spiritual care in the NHS.
Appropriate enquiries about patients' beliefs are an essential part of whole person care without which a comprehensive plan of care is less achievable. A sensitive inquiry as to whether a patient would value prayer may well be an appropriate part of a medical consultation especially in an NHS where some NHS trusts actually pay spiritual healers as part of the care team.
The NHS Scotland guidance states that “while it is important that the patient's right to confidentiality is respected, it is also important to ensure this does not result in a failure to provide patients with the available spiritual or religious care”. '
CMF Chairman Trevor Stammers had a short letter in the Daily Telegraph on 3 February where he admitted to having prayed with patients for 25 years, and this was followed at their request by a longer interview on 4 February.
Other CMF staff are involved behind the scenes and we have been encouraged by comments through our website, such as:
CMF does not 'campaign' but we provide information, stimulate prayer, and are occasionally involved in advocacy. The Daily Telegraph has received so many comments in support that on 5 February they started a petition for Caroline
6 February: It has been announced that Caroline's suspension has been lifted and she can return to her job. CMF General Secretary Peter Saunders is quoted extensively on the wider implications of this case for all NHS staff, and for historic British freedoms.
Dr John Holden, medico-legal adviser to the Medical Defence Union, has written a very helpful article titled 'Doctors and patients at prayer' in which he steers a sensible middle way recommending that doctors should use professional judgement when discussing questions of faith with patients. MDU members with queries about discussing their faith, or other aspects of their personal beliefs with patients, are invited to contact the MDU advisory helpline on 0800 716 646 for specific advice.
Steven Fouch (CMF Head of Communications) 020 7234 9668
Alistair Thompson on 07970 162 225
Christian Medical Fellowship (CMF) was founded in 1949 and is an interdenominational organisation with over 5,000 doctors, 900medical and nursing students and 300 nurses and midwives as members in all branches of medicine, nursing and midwifery. A registered charity, it is linked to over 100 similar bodies in other countries throughout the world.
CMF exists to unite Christian healthcare professionals to pursue the highest ethical standards in Christian and professional life and to increase faith in Christ and acceptance of his ethical teaching.