UK: NHS nurse who offered a Bible to a cancer patient was rightly sacked – Tribunal ruled
NHS nurse who offered a Bible to a cancer patient and encouraged him to sing The Lord is My Shepherd LOSES appeal after tribunal ruled she was ‘rightly sacked for religious fervour’
- Sarah Kuteh, 50, from Sierra Leone worked as an NHS nurse for 15 years
- She was fired from Darent Valley Hospital in Kent for giving a patient a Bible following several other complaints
- A court has ruled the termination of her employment was ‘fair’ after learning a patient likened her religious fervour to a ‘Monty Python skit’
A nurse who was sacked from the NHS after offering a bible to a cancer patient and encouraged him to sing The Lord is My Shepherd was fairly dismissed, a court has ruled.
Sarah Kuteh was fired from her job at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, in 2016 for repeatedly talking to patients about her faith and handing out a bible, in breach of Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) rules.
A ruling, published last week by the Court of Appeal, stated that on June 3 2016 a patient at the hospital had complained about Ms Kuteh’s conduct.
The court heard how the patient likened the incident to a ‘Monty Python skit’, which he said was ‘very bizarre’ – in which she encouraged him to sing along with Psalm 23 with her.
The ruling, which upheld a decision that she was fairly dismissed by the Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, stated: ‘On 20 June 2016, the Complaints Department noted a call from a patient being treated for cancer concerning his assessment by the Claimant on 3 June 2016.
‘He had replied ‘open minded’ to the question on the form concerning religion and alleged the Claimant had told him that the only way he could get to the Lord was through Jesus.
‘(She) told him she would give him her bible if he did not have one; gripped his hand tightly and said a prayer that was very intense and went ‘on and on’; and asked him to sing Psalm 23 [The Lord is My Shepherd] after which he was so astounded that he had sung the first verse with her.
‘He described the encounter as ‘very bizarre’ and ‘like a Monty Python skit’.
The court documents also point to a number of other incidents, in which Ms Kuteh told a bowel cancer patient in April 2016 ‘that if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival’
Another complaint, again in April 2016, came from a patient who said Ms Kuteh ‘spent more time talking about religion than doing the assessment’, and another, the same month, came from a patient who said they didn’t want to see Ms Koteh as they ‘didn’t like preaching’.
Miss Kuteh, a 50-year-old mother of three, was suspended from her job in June 2016 and sacked for gross misconduct in August the same year, with her dismissal upheld by an employment tribunal later the same year.
She appealed the ruling of the tribunal in 2017, but failed in her bid to have her sacking overturned, but was allowed to work as a nurse again in July last year after her working restrictions were lifted by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Ms Kuteh, however, appealed for a second time against her sacking to the Court of Appeal – saying the employment tribunal had ‘failed to consider the correct interpretation of the NMC Code and the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate expressions of religious beliefs’.
She also said the tribunal had failed to acknowledge that Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights – Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs – was ‘applicable’ and to ‘consider the fact-sensitive distinction between true evangelism and improper proselytism’.
Judges at the Court of Appeal, however, rejected the nurse’s most recent appeal, saying she was not unfairly dismissed in a ruling published last week.
The ruling, presided over by Lord Justice Gross, Lord Justice Singh and Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, stated: ‘The Respondent employer [Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust] did not have a blanket ban on religious speech at the workplace.
‘What was considered to be inappropriate was for the Claimant [Ms Kuteh] to initiate discussions about religion and for her to disobey a lawful instruction given to her by management.
‘It is important that cases such as this should not become over-elaborate or excessively complicated.
‘The essence of this case can be summarised as follows:
‘The Claimant accepted that on at least some occasions she initiated conversations with patients about religion.
On 11 April 2016 the Claimant gave an assurance to Ms Gill [the supervising matron] that she would not initiate such discussions.
‘Despite that assurance, given in response to a lawful management instruction, the Claimant continued to do so.
‘In particular the incident on 3 June 2016, which the patient concerned described as ‘very bizarre’ and ‘like a Monty Python skit’, was on any view clearly inappropriate.
‘The Respondent conducted a fair procedure, by way of investigation, at the disciplinary hearing and at the subsequent appeal.
‘The decision to dismiss the Claimant for misconduct was one which the Employment Tribunal (ET) concluded fell within the band of reasonable responses open to the Respondent in this case.
‘Even having regard to the importance of the right to freedom of religion, it was plainly open to the ET to conclude that this dismissal had not been unfair.
‘Similarly, the Employment Appeal Tribunal was plainly correct, in my view, to regard the appeal as having no reasonable prospect of success and therefore in dismissing it.
‘For the reasons I have given I would dismiss this appeal.’
The Christian Legal Centre – which represents Ms Kuteh – said she is currently in discussion with her legal team to consider her next step.