Christian nurse sacked for talking about faith with patients
A Christian nurse has been fired by the NHS, for talking to patients about her faith and occasionally offering prayer, while helping them to prepare for surgery.
Sarah Kuteh, a nursing Sister from Bexley, had 15 years' experience as a nurse. But Sarah was investigated and dismissed last August for "gross misconduct", even though her job involved asking about patients' faith, as part of a pre-op assessment questionnaire.
Sarah, 48, has also been referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for disqualification proceedings.
The mother of three describes her sudden dismissal as punitive and disproportionate, and supported by the Christian Legal Centre, she is seeking reinstatement and compensation.
'Embarrassing and painful'
Sarah had worked at the Darent Valley Hospital in Kent since 2007 with an excellent record.
She would see on average 30-40 patients a week, and over the course of six months spoke to several hundred patients.
Sarah said that although she had no intention of imposing her beliefs on others, she would sometimes tell them about how her own faith in Christ had helped her overcome adversity.
"I would... reassure them, based on the joy and peace that I really have found in the Lord," she said.
In April, her Matron came into her office and said she had been told by other staff about a few complaints by patients that she had discussed religion with them.
Sarah agreed that from then on she would not initiate any conversations about religion and only discuss religion if patients began the conversation.
Sarah stuck to her word.
But in June, she was called into the Matron's office and was shocked to be told that three further complaints had been made. She was suspended the same day, told to collect her belongings and escorted from the hospital.
Sarah recalls the experience as "embarrassing and very painful", in light of her many years' service.
"I was walked out of that hospital after all I had done over all my years as a nurse and I was told I couldn’t even speak to any of my colleagues," she said.
"All I had done was to nurse from the very bottom of my heart. How could it ever be harmful to tell someone about Jesus?"
Dismissed with immediate effect
After her suspension, Sarah was investigated. NHS management claimed her discussions with patients while filling out the questionnaires were "inappropriate" and made some patients "feel uncomfortable".
During the investigation she was told that one patient had apparently complained to nurses that she had given her a Bible she did not want and had said she would pray for her - though Sarah said she had only done so after the woman expressed an interest.
While the NHS papers refer to "complaints" from patients, Sarah was only presented with brief handwritten notes by a colleague who had recorded the patients’ comments, a few lines each, which suggest several patients casually voiced some discontent, as well as the formal complaint from a patient.
Sarah did not see the complaints before the investigation hearing and she was not allowed to call the patients to the hearing to investigate their claims.
Following a disciplinary hearing in August, Sarah was dismissed with immediate effect, and referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council. She is now facing disqualification proceedings before the NMC.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, she has brought a claim for unfair dismissal.
'We are praying for a just outcome'
Sarah’s minister, Pastor Jeremiah Emuchay, of Heart of God Ministry, said: "When we heard what had happened to Sarah we were very upset and referred her immediately to the Christian Legal Centre.
"We know that the Christian Legal Centre helps people dismissed at work for speaking of Jesus but couldn't believe that it actually happened to Sarah. This is a woman who is passionate about Jesus and passionate about her job. We are all praying for a just outcome."
'Motivated by love and compassion'
Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, commented:
"Sarah is an experienced, hard-working senior nurse facing a grossly disproportionate punishment for no more than expressing her Christian faith in the workplace. But for the question on the pre-op assessment questionnaire, these conversations would not have taken place.
"Without proper investigation, she has been fired and her long career as a nurse has been ruined at a stroke of a pen, simply because some patients claimed she had made them feel uncomfortable.
"Sarah is a motivated nurse, motivated by love and compassion for those she serves in her day to day life. Matters arose in the context of discussing the patients’ pre-op assessment questionnaires, which included questions about the patients' faith.
"This is the latest in the growing list of cases where an expression of Christian beliefs at workplace punishes disproportionately those who live and speak out their faith in public life.
"Just a few months ago, the Prime Minister in Parliament confirmed that Christians should feel free to talk about their faith in the workplace. Sarah’s case demonstrates that the reality can be quite different.
"We hope that the Employment Tribunal will recognise that the NHS acted unfairly and harshly when dealing with Sarah."
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Sarah needs our help. But, as ever, the case is not just about her. It's also about the freedom to hold and express Christian beliefs in the workplace and in public service.
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Video: NHS nurse fired for speaking of Jesus Christ