Nurses, patients and inappropriate conversations about religion: Kuteh

The issue of nurses having inappropriate conversations about religion with patients has come up again.

In Mrs S Kuteh v Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust (England and Wales: Unfair Dismissal) [2017] UKET 2302764/2016, the Claimant, a nursing sister employed by the Trust, was a “committed Christian” [12]. In March and April 2016, staff in her department told her superiors that patients had been complaining that when they were being assessed by Mrs Kuteh she had been raising matters of religion and faith with them: one complained that she had been asked “what she thought Easter was about”, another that he had been asked what he thought being a Christian meant and a third, about to undergo major surgery for bowel cancer, that she had told him if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival [22].

In April 2016, the Matron, Ms Gill, told Mrs Kuteh that such discussions were inappropriate and should not take place in the future. Mrs Kuteh undertook to change her ways and the Matron confirmed their conversation in writing [23]. Subsequently, however, a patient complained that Mrs Kuteh had given her a Bible and said that she would pray for her and another that Mrs Kuteh was preaching at her and made her feel uncomfortable [24]. Mrs Kuteh was ultimately suspended for repeated misconduct, inappropriate behaviour involving unwanted discussions on religion that had resulted in complaints from patients, and breach of paragraph 20.7 of the nursing and midwifery code about not expressing political, religious or moral beliefs to people in an inappropriate way [25 & 26]. Finally, after a formal investigation meeting, she was dismissed [26-37] and her appeal against dismissal was unsuccessful.

At the tribunal hearing, Employment Judge Kurrein concluded that the internal appeal process was thorough, fair and reasonable and the outcome, that the original decision should stand, was unimpeachable [81]. As to the relevance of Article 9 ECHR, Mrs Kuteh’s only claim was for unfair dismissal: “At the time she presented her claim she could have, but did not, make a claim alleging discrimination because of religion or belief” [82]:

“In light of all my above findings I draw the important distinction, illustrated in the case of Chondol v Liverpool City Council [2009] UKEAT 0298/08/1102, that in this case the Claimant was prevented from inappropriately proselytising her beliefs, as opposed to being prevented from manifesting them. I am entirely satisfied that was the true reason that the Respondent decided to dismiss the Claimant” [83].

Claim dismissed. The Trust had not breached Mrs Kuteh’s Article 9 rights [85 & 86].

[Note: At [83] in the transcript, BAILII cites Chondol as “(1999) UKEAT/0298/08/JOJ” – which is incorrect. I’ve corrected it in the quotation above.]

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Nurses, patients and inappropriate conversations about religion: Kuteh" in Law & Religion UK, 4 August 2017, http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2017/08/04/nurses-patients-and-inappropriate-conversations-about-religion-kuteh/

6 thoughts on “Nurses, patients and inappropriate conversations about religion: Kuteh

  1. A sad outcome for the Claimant but in my opinion correct and necessary.
    I would be interested to hear a counter-position.

    • What I can’t understand is that her representative didn’t argue discrimination on grounds of religion or belief or raise Article 9 [82 ff]. I still think she’d have lost, though.

  2. The law aside (not, I suppose, a good start to a comment here) the issue in my mind is the right of a patient in an NHS hospital not to be confronted by NHS employees advancing their personal views on matters of morality, ethics or even politics. Since religious dogma can impact all of these, the highly religious NHS employee will need to exercise a great deal of self-control… In short: be professionally focussed on their role in the team while showing empathy and respect for the patient’s feelings. But some branches of organised religion stress the need for, indeed the duty of, evangelism; hence the confrontation. The weakness in my position is that also I do not want there to be a right not to be offended. So if a doctor was asked “will it help if I pray for my child?” an honest response “almost certainly not” should not result in the doctor being suspended.

    Any doctor with a modicum of humanity would, of course, reply “it will do no harm”.

    • It’s difficult. If I should go into hospital I won’t care twopence about the religious/moral/political views of the person treating me – all I’ll want is the proper treatment. If the surgeon believes in flying saucers that’s not my problem. Equally, if a nurse suggests we pray together I hope I’ll smile politely and decline, rather than treating her to my views on why God is not to be regarded as the Celestial Maintenance Engineer.

      But as to the right not to be offended, doesn’t it depend slightly on context? In normal life, lots of things offend me but I regard that as the small change of existence. It’s different, however, for someone who is vulnerable, whether in the technical legal sense or just in everyday parlance. If you’re waiting for major surgery and someone suggests you pray for healing, that’s OK if you’re that kind of believer. If, on the other hand, you don’t believe in religion at all (or if, like me, you think that that is not what religion is about), you might have legitimate reason to get ratty. If someone’s about to stick a knife in my guts, the last thing I want is someone faffing around preaching at me. If I want a chaplain, I’ll ask for one, thanks: s/he’ll presumably be the more competent theologian.

      But, all in all, best not go there at all unless invited.

      • Even chaplaincy team members can only discuss their faith/belief if invited to.

        The 4th of the 5 ‘Marks of Chaplaincy’ is “At no time to proselytise or in any other way attempt to coerce or convert patients, staff or relatives, but always to act with respect and courtesy.”

        From what I read of this case, her comments were not only well outside acceptable, but could have cased distress.

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