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Tribunal rules dismissal of sister after complaints of religious fervour was fair

Nurse told patient he would have better chance of surviving cancer operation if he prayed, tribunal heard.
Sarah Kuteh

A nurse who told a patient he would have a better chance of surviving a cancer operation if he prayed was rightly dismissed by her trust, an employment tribunal ruled.

Sister Sarah Kuteh, who has 15 years' nursing experience, was dismissed for gross misconduct in 2016 from Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, following complaints from patients about 'unwarranted discussions' on religion.

Legal challenge

Ms Kuteh mounted a legal challenge, claiming unfair dismissal and an employment tribunal hearing was held in March.

Tribunal judge Martin Kurrein said on 6 April that Ms Kuteh's claim for unfair dismissal 'was not well founded and must be dismissed'.

Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust had not breached the claimant's freedom of religious expression, he added.

Ms Kuteh is appealing against the decision, with her representatives, from the Christian Legal Centre, claiming the ruling was unfair.

A nurse who told a patient he would have a better chance of surviving a cancer operation if he prayed was rightly dismissed by her trust, an employment tribunal ruled.

Sister Sarah Kuteh, who has 15 years' nursing experience, was dismissed for gross misconduct in 2016 from Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, following complaints from patients about 'unwarranted discussions' on religion.

Legal challenge

Ms Kuteh mounted a legal challenge, claiming unfair dismissal and an employment tribunal hearing was held in March.

Tribunal judge Martin Kurrein said on 6 April that Ms Kuteh's claim for unfair dismissal 'was not well founded and must be dismissed'.

Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust had not breached the claimant's freedom of religious expression, he added.

Ms Kuteh is appealing against the decision, with her representatives, from the Christian Legal Centre, claiming the ruling was unfair.

Pre-operative prayer

Statements submitted to an employment tribunal heard in March how a patient, who was waiting for bowel surgery, complained Ms Kuteh had told him that if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival.

Another patient said being subjected to the religious 'fervour' of Ms Kuteh was 'bizarre', and compared the experience to a 'Monty Python skit'. A further patient felt Ms Kuteh spent more time talking about religion than completing a pre-operative questionnaire.

Eight complaints were made by 'extremely vulnerable' patients facing surgery, the employment tribunal heard. 

Performance action plan

The judge said he considered how Ms Kuteh had joined the trust in 2007 as a nurse, was a committed Christian, and was promoted to sister in 2012. He noted she had been subject of a detailed performance action plan in mid-2014.

'At that time the claimant had been working in the intensive therapy unit for some years. In November 2015, however, the claimant was disciplined for a medication error and as a consequence was given a final formal warning for a period of 24 months and transferred to work in a pre-assessment role.’

He said in March and April 2016 staff reported patient complaints to the ward sister about Ms Kuteh.

On 11 April, a matron raised concerns and received assurances from Ms Kuteh the 'inappropriate' conversations would stop.

Suspended

Two further complaints were logged in May and Ms Kuteh was suspended on 13 June for repeated misconduct, inappropriate behaviour/conduct that involved unwanted discussions on the topic of religion and breach of The Code.

On 20 June 2016 the trust’s complaints department noted a call from a patient being treated for cancer alleging ‘the claimant told him that the only way he could get to the Lord was through Jesus, told him she would give him her Bible if he did not have one, had gripped his hand tightly and said a prayer that was very intense and went “on and on”'. 

The man said she asked him to sing Psalm 23 and 'he was so astounded he had sung the first verse with her.

Confident about appeal

Christian Legal Centre chief executive Andrea Williams told Nursing Standard: ‘We have filed the appeal and are confident it has good prospects of success.

'The way the trust punished Sarah was grossly disproportionate and no rational review was undertaken to consider how to use Sarah with her considerable years of experience on the hospital.’

A Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust spokesperson said: ‘This case was never about religion. 

'It related to professional nursing responsibilities, behaviour and conduct in a public-facing role and position of trust. We take no satisfaction in having dismissed her but must always act in the best interests of our patients and in accordance with professional codes of conduct.’

Ms Kuteh was referred to the NMC and its investigation continues.


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