Nurse suspended for offering to pray for patient
Yet Nurse Caroline Petrie has been suspended by her employer – North Somerset Primary Care Trust – for failing to demonstrate a ‘personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity’.
Did Nurse Petrie specify that she would be praying to Jehovah in the name of Jesus? Did she state that she would be genuflecting to Allah, waving to Waheguru, chanting to Krishna or spinning her prayer wheel to some divinity who may or may not be omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent? Did she single out this one patient for discriminatory persecution because of her skin colour, sexuality or creed?
It appears that quite a few of Nurse Petrie’s patients appreciate her prayers, which are offered to all, irrespective of gender, sexuality, religion or race – and also irrespective of whether they have made themselves obese, whether or not they smoke, drink heavily, or voluntarily inject themselves with chemical substances. She does not judge: she loves with the divine agape; she cares for her neighbour, and loves them as she loves herself. She says she has seen her supplications have real effects on patients, including one Catholic woman whose urine infection cleared up days after she said a prayer.
In short, Nurse Petrie cares for the sick and elderly, and does so with a vocational professional concern for the whole person – mind, body and spirit.
But one elderly woman patient in Winscombe, North Somerset, decided that the care is too much, too genuine, too heartfelt. When Nurse Petrie offered to pray for her, the patient politely declined. But afterwards she decided to be so offended as to feel the urge to telephone the nurse’s employer and make a complaint. It is not clear how this complaint was formalised, but it appears that Nurse Petrie’s superiors decided to be even more offended than the original offended party, who was not originally so offended as to tell Nurse Petrie what the offence was or wasn’t in the first place. And so Nurse Petrie was summoned to appear before an internal disciplinary panel to explain her conduct. And this panel doubtless believes itself to be God’s gift to discernment and justice - if the phrase ‘God’s gift’ does not cause it undue offence - and they are tasked with assessing whether an offer of prayer is illegal and sufficient grounds for dismissal.
Do these inquisitors not have something more important to pursue? How much time, energy and taxpayers’ money is being wasted on persecuting an innocent, well-intentioned nurse who simply wants the best for her patients and to make the world a better place?
There are various NHS codes of conduct which state the necessity to 'demonstrate a personal and professional commitment to equality and diversity' and specify that employees 'must not use (their) professional status to promote causes that are not related to health'.
But how can concern for a patient’s spiritual life not be related to health? Why do hospitals have chaplains of numerous denominations and faiths if their presence may be disturbing to some or their offers to pray for the sick and dying may be deemed offensive? They are paid the order of £38,000 per annum to provide psycho-social, pastoral support and religious activities in order to provide guidance and assistance to patients, carers, and staff. Cranmer cannot be bothered to calculate out how many hospitals there are in the UK, but a conservative estimate of 5000 would present a bill of £190,000,000 for chaplaincy services. Why does the over-stretched NHS budget pay for them to trawl the wards with their presumptuous offers of prayer? Could not money be saved by abolishing the chaplains and asking the nurses and doctors to be genuinely concerned (to the point of prayer) with their patients’ spiritual health?
And if health professionals are to be constrained from exercising in the spiritual realm, what about the education profession? They too are employees of the state, paid for by the taxpayer, and subject to codes of conduct. Presumably, since education is supposed to be holistic, schoolteachers are supposed to be concerned for their pupils’ spiritual wellbeing as well as their physical and intellectual development. Would a teacher who offered to pray for a pupil be suspended for transgressing the principles of equality and diversity? Since schools have a statutory obligation to hold a Christian daily act of worship, it is puzzling indeed that the law requires them to do so without consideration being given to those of other faiths and none who might deem it to be offensive.
Ironically, North Somerset Primary Care Trust issues guidance to its employees which positively encourages them to reflect on their 'personal mission and personal values' and 'to balance all aspects of their lives – physical, psychological, social, spiritual and emotional'.
Healthcare is not a secular athestic pursuit. Since around 90 per cent of the population profess allegiance to one god or another (with 70 per cent professing the cultural Christian faith), it seems somewhat disproportionate to deny NHS patients the choice of reflecting on the spiritul and emotional aspects of their lives. Indeed, to permit secularism to override religious adherence is manifestly discriminatory and is itself an expression of intolerance. The option to be prayed for is simply a choice to be made. How can one be offended by being offered a choice? And if all are to be denied such a choice, the secularism of the minority is imposed on the religious adherence of the majority. That is hardly democratic.
And speaking of democracy, has anyone asked Her Majesty if she minds being prayed for by Members of Parliament every day? Her Majesty might be taken aback to discover that the democratically elected are so presumptuous as to believe she may need divine intervention in the performance of her duties. Cranmer prays each day for those who govern us. He now wonders whether he may be summoned to the High Court of Parliament to explain himself for manifesting tendencies which are unequal and discriminatory.
It is profoundly encouraging to hear that Nurse Petrie is to be defended by the redoubtable barrister Paul Diamond. He may not win every battle, but he is fierce in the defence of religious liberties, and Cranmer has no doubt that his learned advocacy is contributing immeasurably to the ultimate victory.