A nurse with 15 years’ experience has been sacked after discussing Christianity and offering to pray with patients before operations.
Sister Sarah Kuteh was dismissed for breaching guidelines, even though her job involved asking people preparing for surgery about their religion.
The mother-of-three, who is now suing the hospital for unfair dismissal, said she was offering solace to patients she believed were happy to chat about their beliefs, and described her sacking as ‘disproportionate and punitive’.
The row comes after Theresa May told MPs that Christians should feel able to speak about their faith at work. The Prime Minister’s comments followed criticism by Government watchdog the Equality and Human Rights Commission, highlighted by The Mail on Sunday, of politically correct organisations that curb freedom of expression.
Mrs Kuteh broke down in tears as she recalled being suspended and escorted from Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent.
She said: ‘It was embarrassing for me – and painful after all I had done in my years as a nurse. I was told I couldn’t even speak to my colleagues. All I had done was to nurse from my heart. How could it be harmful to tell someone about Jesus?’
But bosses at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust said her ‘unwanted discussions’ had upset patients and she had also failed to heed warnings that she was being unprofessional.
Mrs Kuteh, a committed Christian who started nursing in London before moving to Dartford in 2007, became a sister in 2012 while working in the intensive care department. She started a new role in November 2015, assessing patients’ health before they underwent surgery. Part of her job was helping them complete a questionnaire, which included a question on religion.
She admitted she may have spoken to a few patients without their express permission when she first began the job. But she was more careful after a warning in April this year that there had been complaints and her approach breached conduct guidelines about discussing personal beliefs.
Mrs Kuteh said conversations sometimes arose if a patient failed to put anything in the box marked Religion, and she might ask them why and even tell them how her faith had helped her overcome adversity. But she added that it was often the patients who spoke about their faith first, and she had no intention of imposing her beliefs on others.
In June, Mrs Kuteh was ‘shocked’ to be told three further complaints had been made, after which she was told to stop assessing patients and was suspended a few days later.
She was sacked in August after an investigation, and her appeal was rejected.
During the investigation the nurse was told one patient had complained she had given her a Bible she did not want and had said she would pray for her. Another allegedly said she had felt uncomfortable that Mrs Kuteh was ‘preaching’ at her.
Mrs Kuteh, who is taking the trust to an employment tribunal with the backing of the Christian Legal Centre, claimed her disciplinary process was flawed as she was not initially shown the complaints.
The trust said: ‘We have a duty to our patients that when they are at their most vulnerable they are not exposed to unsolicited beliefs and/ or views, religious or otherwise. We feel we have acted appropriately in this case.’