Nurse ordered to remove cross after nearly 30 years of service

20 September 2009

A Christian nurse from Exeter, with nearly 30 years of service, and just eight months to go to her retirement, is being threatened with disciplinary action after refusing to remove a necklace bearing a Cross—a symbol of her deeply felt Christian faith. NHS bosses insist that the Cross must be removed from sight.

Shirley Chaplin, aged 54, has worked in the NHS all her life. Ever since studying to be a nurse she has worn this necklace and Cross with her uniform. But now NHS bosses have ordered her to remove the personal item, deeming it a breach of uniform policy and a health risk to her and to patients.

Mrs Chaplin, informed managers at The Royal Devon & Exeter NHS Trust Hospital that she had never had an accident injuring herself, or another patient, in three decades of nursing, and would happily sign a disclaimer absolving the Trust from any liability if she were injured by the one inch silver object. The Trust refused her ‘Risk Assessment’ evidence, despite the fact that there is not one recorded accident of injury to a nurse or patient via the wearing of a necklace/cross anywhere in the NHS. The Trust insists that the Cross should not be visible.

Mrs Chaplin claims the demand to remove her Cross has nothing to do with Health and Safety, but is an infringement of her Human Rights, and that of being able to express her faith, which has been her foundation and strength for nearly 30 years of serving members of the public through nursing. Mrs. Chaplin said:

“I asked if I could wear the Cross pinned to my lapel, but they would only allow the cross to be pinned inside my pocket. However they said Security ID badges were permitted as the security benefit was greater than the risk. Necklaces are worn by other members of Staff and the Trust has promoted the hospital with photographs of staff wearing necklaces. They said that other staff wearing chains including those wearing medialert chains and scarves had complied with their health and safety policy. The Trust also failed to explain why members of staff that were photographed wearing chains in the hospital newsletters were exempted from the health and risk policy. This smacks of double standards and appears to discriminate against Christians. This blatant piece of political correctness amounts to the marginalising of employees’ personal human rights, a blanket ‘secularising and neutralising’ of the NHS intended to stop Christians from expressing their faith in the public services of the NHS”

Mrs Chaplin, is supported in her ordeal by her minister, the Revd John Eustice, of Christ Church, Exeter who has accompanied Mrs. Chaplin when she has met with Personnel and Line managers.

Mrs Chaplin, a mother of two children, and a grandmother, said: “Everyone I have ever worked with has clearly known I am a Christian: it is what motivates me to care for others. For about 30 years I have worked in the NHS and nursed patients day and night and on no occasion has my Cross caused me or anyone else, any injury – and to my knowledge, no patient has ever complained about me wearing it. The Trust even refused to test the ‘breaking strain’ on the necklace.

Mrs Chaplin has sought advice from the Christian Legal Centre, and has instructed leading human rights barrister Paul Diamond, who advised Caroline Petrie, the nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for a patient and then reinstated.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, founder of CLC said: “I think members of the public, including Shirley’s thousands of former patients over the years will be astonished at the request from her employer to remove a personal item which clearly expresses something of the love and care she has for people which first led her into the nursing profession.

“You cannot separate a person’s faith and motivation from other areas of their life, including what they do with the majority of their time: work. Unfortunately an aggressive, secularist, politically correct agenda is being driven in the NHS and other public sectors at present. Those wanting to promote the agenda say that it is ‘neutral’ but manifestly it is not. This agenda is leading to case after case of discrimination against Christians and real suffering. We will be assisting Shirley to hold out for her human rights – and expect the public en masse to do so as well.”

Media links

Sunday Telegraph

Daily Telegraph

Telegraph blog

Daily Mail

BBC News

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Find out more about Shirley Chaplin
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