A Christian nurse from Somerset has been suspended because bosses say her offer to pray for a patient broke “equality and diversity” rules.
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Campaigners say such regulations are making life increasingly difficult for Christians and “creating a form of censorship and intolerance”.
Mrs Petrie, a committed Christian and married mother of two, insists she never forces her religious beliefs on anyone.
But she is now being investigated by North Somerset Primary Care Trust after offering to pray for one of her patients at the end of a home visit.
Mrs Petrie said: “I simply couldn’t believe that I have been suspended over this. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. All I am trying to do is help my patients, many of whom want me to pray for them.”
The patient, 79-year-old May Phippen, says she was not personally offended by the offer, but made a complaint on the basis that someone else might have been.
Mrs Phippen said: “It was the first time I’d seen her. She was a nice lady, did the job properly and was quietly spoken. Personally I wouldn’t want to see her sacked for something like that.”
Mrs Petrie described what had taken place at Mrs Phippen’s home: “It was around lunchtime and I had spent about 20 to 25 minutes with her. I had applied dressings to her legs and shortly before I left I said to her: ‘Would you like me to pray for you?’.
“She said ‘No, thank you.’ And I said: ‘OK.’ I only offered to pray for her because I was concerned about her welfare and wanted her to get better.”
Mrs Petrie says the incident was raised the next day by a nursing sister.
“I said: ‘I am sorry. Did I offend or upset her?’ The sister said: ‘No, no. She was just a bit taken back. You must be aware of your professional code of conduct. I would be careful.’
“But the next day my coordinator left a message on my home phone and I realised this had been taken further.”
Following Mrs Phippen’s complaint, Mrs Petrie found herself facing an hour-long internal disciplinary meeting. She expects to hear the outcome this week. Until a decision is made, she remains suspended without pay.
She is being supported by the Christian Legal Centre.
Andrea Williams, the founder and director of the centre, said people with traditional values were being silenced “in the name of equality and diversity policies”.
She added: “The very laws that were supposed to usher in tolerance end up creating a form of censorship and intolerance.
“The effect is that whole areas of employment are increasingly being closed down to people of Christian faith and this is very alarming in a society that says it wants to promote tolerance.”
Last October Mrs Petrie was reprimanded for offering a small, homemade prayer card to an elderly male patient who had happily accepted it.
The patient’s carer had raised concerns, and Mrs Petrie was sent a letter which said: “Your NMC [Nursing Midwifery Council] code states that ‘you must demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity’ and ‘you must not use your professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’.”
The letter warned: “If there is any further similar incident it may be treated as potential misconduct and the formal disciplinary procedure could be instigated.”
Mrs Petrie was asked to attend an ‘equality and diversity’ course following the incident.
“I stopped handing out prayer cards after that but I found it more and more difficult [not to offer them]. My concern is for the person as a whole, not just their health.
“I was told not to force my faith on anyone but I could respond if patients themselves brought up the subject [of religion].”