CMF became aware of new guidance for health professionals, Religion or belief: a practical guide for the NHS, when it was posted on the Department of Health website on 9 January. We knew nothing of this, as neither the Office, nor any member, nor any group with which we regularly share information had been consulted.
Surprised, General Secretary Peter Saunders wrote to the Department of Health to enquire about the origin of this guidance and the nature of any consultation process, and several weeks later received a reply.
As this is guidance for the NHS, rather than new policy, the Department did not conduct a formal consultation exercise. However, the Department did consult with a wide range of stakeholders in the production of this guidance including NHS Organisations, internal DH colleagues, the Inter Faith Network for the UK and local interest groups.
The case of the community nurse who was suspended for offering prayer to a patient caused much more national focus to fall on the whole question of faith in healthcare. On 6 February a Daily Telegraph article was headlined 'NHS staff face sack if they discuss religion', and quoted from the guidance:
Members of some religions... are expected to preach and to try to convert other people. In a workplace environment this can cause many problems, as non-religious people and those from other religions or beliefs could feel harassed and intimidated by this behaviour.
To avoid misunderstandings and complaints on this issue, it should be made clear to everyone from the first day of training and/or employment, and regularly restated, that such behaviour, notwithstanding religious beliefs, could be construed as harassment under the disciplinary and grievance procedures.
Noting that the 'praying nurse' was returning to work, the Guardian quoted similarly. The whole debate about faith and the workplace has been picked up around the world in intensive media consideration
The guidance contains much non-controversial material about respecting religious observance in the workplace (dietary requirements, prayer rooms, cultural dress codes, etc) which is all welcome, but CMF is concerned about the possible future use of some paragraphs. We oppose any inappropriate proselytising, but Peter Saunders made our general position clear when he said:
Much of the ethos of the NHS arose in a Christian environment, and many of the great pioneers in medicine were people who were motivated by a very strong Christian faith. It is quite ironic that people seem to be seeing Christian belief as something unhelpful.
We live in a post-Christian society and that's fine as long as we don't end up with a system where people are actually discriminated against, bullied and not allowed to express their Christian values.
One of our cherished freedoms is that of freedom of speech, which enables us to have important debates about crucial issues. But we're seeing a culture of thought police emerging where it seems no longer acceptable to express what are really just orthodox Christian beliefs or the exercise of Christian conscience.
Philippa Taylor (CMF Head of Public Policy) 020 7234 9664
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.