Doctors say let us pray with patients

NHS staff shouldn’t be punished for sharing their faith at work, doctors have said.

The matter will be raised at the British Medical Association’s conference later this week.

It follows high-profile cases of medical staff being disciplined for talking about their religious beliefs.

In December Christian nurse, Caroline Petrie, was suspended after she offered to pray for a patient. She was reinstated in February.

In May it emerged that Mr Anand Rao, a Christian nurse with 40 years experience, was sacked because he said during a training course that going to church could ease the anxiety of a stressed patient.

The law does not forbid medical staff from discussing their faith with patients, but ‘diversity’ codes have often been used by bosses to punish staff.

Dr Bernadette Birtwhistle said: “I think it is getting to the point where many of us feel we cannot talk to patients about their spiritual or religious needs or ask them about praying.”

Dr Birtwhistle, a member of the Christian Medical Fellowship, added: “Christianity is being seen as something that is unhelpful.

“Freedom of speech is being curtailed too much and I don’t think that is always in the benefit of patients.”

Several motions have been proposed for debate at the BMA conference. They include recognising “that the NHS is committed to providing spiritual care for patients”.

And that “offering to pray for a patient should not be grounds for suspension”.

Another motion notes “that doctors must not express to their patients their personal beliefs, including political, religious or moral beliefs, in ways that exploit their vulnerability, or that are likely to cause them distress.”

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society commented: “We have to be very careful about how we tread on this issue.

“If we say it is ok for doctors and nurses to provide spiritual care and pray for patients it can all too quickly get out of hand and we will have staff preaching on the wards.

“The risk is that it makes patients feel uncomfortable. They may feel compelled to say ‘yes’ thinking their care will suffer. Really, it is an infringement of their privacy.”

The National Secular Society initially welcomed the disciplinary action against Caroline Petrie, the nurse who offered to pray for a patient.

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern said: “Offering to say a prayer is a warm and kind thought. Most patients will accept it as such.

She added: “You can say thanks but that sort of thing isn’t my cup of tea.”

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