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Community nurse suspended for prayer offer

A community nurse from Weston-super-Mare has been suspended from her work for offering to pray for an elderly patient.

Caroline Petrie is facing dismissal for an alleged breach of her code of conduct on equality and diversity. She was suspended without pay on 17 December 2008 and will find out the outcome of her disciplinary meeting this week.

Mrs Petrie, who has been a community nurse since 1985 and is employed by North Somerset PCT, said she had asked an elderly patient if she would like a prayer said for her after she had put dressings on the patient's legs. The patient declined and Mrs Petrie says that she took the matter no further.

The situation arose at the home of the patient in North Somerset. Mrs Petrie was initially confronted the next day by a nursing sister who said the patient had been taken aback by her question about prayer.

Subsequently, Mrs Petrie received a message from North Somerset PCT telling her that disciplinary action against her would be taken. She was then suspended.

Mrs Petrie said: "The woman mentioned it to the sister who did her dressing the following day. She said that she wasn't offended but was concerned that someone else might be. I was spoken to by my manager. She said: 'I've got a letter in one hand and an incident form in the other. You won't be able to work until we've investigated this incident.'"

A spokesperson for North Somerset PCT said: "Caroline Petrie is a bank nurse. We have had two separate concerns reported from a carer and a patient about her actions. She has therefore been told we will not be using her until the outcome of our investigation is known.

"The Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of Conduct makes it clear that nurses 'must not use [their] professional status to promote causes that are not related to health'.
"However, we are keenly aware of religious sensitivities and the importance of everyone's individual spiritual belief – patients as well as staff.

"Ultimately it is important to add we always take any concerns raised by our patients most seriously and conscientiously investigate any matter brought to our attention. We have to be respectful of our patients' views as well as those of our staff."

North Somerset PCT

Christian Legal Centre

We asked if you agree that the nurse should have been suspended. Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"No, we are taught holistic care which includes the spiritual aspect. My faith is important to me and if the situation was such I would be willing to pray for them. It doesn't need to be there and then but later, even at home. The nurse wasn't preaching at the client. It was a good gesture on the nurse's part which did not offend. The carer should have let things be." - Peter Clothier, Renfrewshire

"No, not at all. The nurse was trying her best to help in the situation, when she knew that the family did not want this type of help she stopped. She did not force her beliefs on anyone. I wonder if it was another religion other than Christianity, would there be so much fuss?" - J Marsh, Newcastle

"No no no ... what an absolute travesty! There are so many other things that need investigating! With alternative therapies available why aren't nurses allowed to talk to patients about religion? I would not be offended if someone asked if they could pray for me. I would rather that than be asked if I would like an alternative therapy. Why pick on someone so caring? I think the sister and the people who reprimanded the agency nurse should be investigated as to why they would waste resources
on an issue like that. If they had a genuine reason to reprimand her then do it, but don't pick on someone for being compassionate; after all, isn't there a bit of that in all nurses? Thank God common sense prevailed, and I hope the agency nurse was reinstated. I cannot imagine for a minute the
stress the nurse must have been through, I am sure she was reassured by her faith that all would be well." - F Prince, West Midlands

"She should not have been suspended – maybe there was a need to investigate it, I don't know, but it was an act of compassion and did no harm, so the action taken by the management was unjustified. I hope amends are made to
the nurse who lost her income as a result. Perhaps management should now be investigated for inappropriate handling of the case – possibly there is a member of the team who didn't like this nurse and used an innocent comment made by the patient to cause trouble for her. I can't think of any other reason to take it further than a simple discussion with the nurse involved to ascertain whether there was any potential to offend anyone. I am not Christian, and hate religion being forced on me – I would probably have declined the offer but have appreciated the thought, and felt closer to the nurse for her demonstration of compassion." - Jenny Blake, Aberystwyth

"A storm in a teacup, as so many issues are these days. Where has common sense gone?! I have a strong faith, and am open about my beliefs if anyone is interested but would never inflict them on another, but on many occasions patients of all faiths have asked me to pray for them. I take it as a compliment that they feel my prayers could help. I find it sad that anyone could regard the offer of a prayer as offensive." - S Lia, Cardiff

"What a terrible injustice for this nurse. I am not religious, but if
someone offered to pray for me then I would accept it with the grace in which it was offered and simply say thank you. What an ungrateful patient to cause so much trouble and what a stupid, stupid management to take it so far and not treat it with the contempt it deserves. Maybe if we are not allowed to mention 'pray' along with any reference to colour, creed, nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, etc etc, we should all have a manual explaining what exactly we ARE allowed to say to these stroppy oversensitive patients so that we can all avoid the sack." - B Lucas

"She should pray for all her patients and not just select those she chooses. Many patients need our prayers and that can be done in a private place. Who knows who we pray for in a quiet moment? We should keep it to oursleves and not be choosy." - Jo Ottaway, Bucks

"Definitely not. On my local news yesterday a doctor had told a family that he had done all he could for their very sick baby, and all that was left for him to do was pray - is he to be reprimanded? I don't think so, the baby is now well and the family extremelly grateful!" - Joan A Kelly, Oldham

"Not at all. We are told to treat a patient holistically – so this includes physical, mental, social and spiritual needs. If the patient declines, end of story. There is so much 'political correctness' these days. What happened to 'common sense'? I am a practice nurse and have offered on the odd occasion to do the same myself for patients. I have even offered a 'hug' to a patient where I thought it may help. Even that, in this day and
age, may be taken the wrong way these days!" - Ann Sutton, Birmingham

"Definitely not. We are taught the need to give holistic care during our training, of which spiritual care is a part. If the patient had insisted that she did not want her dressing done by the nurse that day, the nurse would have had to respect her decision; in the same way the nurse respected the patient's decision not to have prayer as part of her care. That's it, end of story! By the way, now the nurse has been reinstated, I hope that concideration is being taken of her 7 weeks loss of earnings and that some form of compensation will be made by the PCT, as well as an appology, seeing that she did nothing wrong." - Jennie, Sandwell

"Seems a pity that a well-intentioned gesture resulted in the fiasco which followed. I understand that this nurse had previously been spoken to about this; but not withstanding this I wouldn't have considered it worthy of supspension. She wasn't proselytising her faith - just acting out of conviction. The truly sad aspect of this was that it was seized on by the press and corrupted to suit their particular agenda. An innocent attempt
at offering holistic comfort, declined as it happened, became a potential wedge between faith groups thanks to the press. Shame on them." - Paul Brady, Glasgow

"Definitely not, this is a total overreaction by management. The patient wasn't offended and belief can be a big help in the healing process. Political correctness has gone too far - does this mean that a diabetic patient will be offended if they are offered sugar in their tea?! Everyone seems very concerned about offending other religions but comes down hard on Christian beliefs and principles - are we not still a Christian country? Mrs Petrie is to be commended for making this public and making a stand for Christian values. Onward Christian soldiers!" - Nuala, Belfast

"Absolutely not. The nurse did what sounds like a kind, considerate act. If the patient declined and wasn't offended, what's the big deal. I can understand if the nurse had pursued in offering prayers, but she didn't. Her managers in my opinion have over-reacted." - MS, London

"Absolutely not! This is like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. And what was the nurse's crime? Offering a prayer that was declined. That should be the end of the matter. Another patient might have welcomed it as an act of kindness that meets their spiritual need. The PCT's response comes close to persecution. If this 'incident' had occured somewhere in the Middle East I would not be very surprised, but surely, not in the UK. Shame on the PCT." - Freddie Reid, Staffs

"Very unfair decision by her manager. The patient was not offended is the key to how the matter should have been looked at." - Mary, Birmingham

"I heard today that the nurse has been reinstated which should be a victory for common sense. Christianity is an individual thing and there are times that we mention prayer in our day-to-day lives; but asking to pray for someone without a request to do so I feel was not a part of the nurses remit. However, the fuss about the incident was unnecessary." - V Henry

"Surely there was no need to suspend this nurse? A quiet word from her manager should have sufficed. She only offered to say a prayer for the lady in question for goodness sake - there is no suggestion that she was trying to convert the woman to faith. It is not outwith the realms of possibility that many patients would appreciate the offer. Of course, others may be offended by it. If this nurse is as experienced as she appears to be, she should be able to make the judgement as to who falls into which category. Many people (myself included) would appreciate the gesture. After all should we not be practising holistic care?  What is the patient's take on the furore that has followed her conversation with the Sister who attended her the next day?  Heard on the news today that the nurse has been reinstated but has this incident/issue affected her chances of getting work?" - Irene Macpherson, Greenock

"No. When I was in training, after the birth of each child we had to say a prayer with the mother, it was compulsory. I would love someone to pray for me regardless of religion." - Rahala, East London

"We are concerned about other countries and their persecution of people for their religious beliefs. Who are we to cast stones?  This nurse offered a prayer, but did not continue when the patient declined. Would we be suspended if we offered to hold someone's hand and they declined? It's totally fear based. Our country is afraid of everything." - Moira Rothery, Birmingham

"No. Blown out of all proportion. She was just caring for the whole person." - Jackie Tayor, Derbyshire

"Total over-reaction. Couldn't the sister have pulled her up about it?" - Lois, West Bromwich

"Certainly not. She appears to have simply been concerned for her patient; surely a response from the patient to decline the offer was enough." - Name and address supplied

"No. I was trained in Germany and many nurses offered prayer to their patients, especially during a crisis. Nurses are called to care holistically, which includes the spiritual part of being human. Many minority groups welcome prayer, too. Did the patient express a spiritual need that the nurse responded to?" - Heidi Twilley, Birmingham

"No, definitely not." - Jayne Bristoe, Essex

"What a load of crock! I dont go to church but I would be happy to let someone say a prayer for me no matter what my beliefs - why not hedge your bets? What is the world coming to .... that poor nurse will be hauled along to a disciplinary investigation for something so trivial. I don't call offering to say a prayer for someone 'promoting the cause' of anything - she wasnt asking the patient to make a donation to the collection plate was she? Pollitical correctness - no wonder we are having trouble keeping nurses - dont we have enough to worry about with the state
of the health service? If this is all the nurse has done wrong - shame on the PCT!" - Lynn Meredith, Staffs

"No, a quiet word re her actions would surely have sufficed." - Yvonne Leaworthy, Hampshire

"I don't think this is the first time she has pushed her beliefs onto others. She should receive a warning that she should not push her belifs onto others, then move on – this should have been dealt with by her line manager. What a waste of time." - A Everett, Devon

"It seems very unfair and shortsighted of her manager to suspend her!! I thought we were meant to provide holistic care – physical spiritual and emotional!" - Lesley Benson, Cumbria

"Does not seem fair to suspend someone just because they offered to pray for one of their clients. Surely she must have done something else. If the patient was not offended then whats the big deal? Sounds crazy to me." - Madeleine Jennings, Kent