SUTTON, England — A Christian who was fired after offering to pray with patients ahead of their surgery has claimed she was unfairly dismissed.
Sarah Kuteh was ordered to leave her position at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, following a series of patient complaints.
One patient felt Kuteh spent more time talking about religion than completing a pre-operative questionnaire, according to statements submitted at an employment tribunal being held in Ashford, Kent.
Eight complaints were made by “extremely vulnerable” patients facing surgery, and the nursing sister was sacked in August before being referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council for disqualification proceedings.
Pavel Stroilov, who represented Kuteh, said that nurses were meant to care for people facing hardship and suffering.
"A nurse without compassion would be unworthy of the name. On top of performing her immediate duties, a good nurse would try and find kind words to say to her patient," he said.
But Sarah Collins, general manager for medicine at Darent Valley Hospital, who chaired the nurse’s first diciplinary hearing, said her “spirituality blurred the professional boundary” between herself and patients.
"Despite having been warned against such behaviour on two occasions, she persisted with questioning patients on religious grounds,' she said in a statement.
"Following reasonable management requests formed a pivotal aspect of Mrs. Kuteh's contract of employment with the Trust."
Collins added there had been a "fundamental breach of trust and confidence". She also felt Kuteh had not learned from her mistakes and would not change her behavior.
"Mrs. Kuteh's assertion that she felt compelled to continue to hold religious discussions with patients concerned me," she said.
But Stroilov, the nurse's representative, said she was not "adequately informed" of the allegations against her by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust before an investigatory meeting.
He added the substantive evidence of patients’ complaints was “wholly unsatisfactory”, consisting mainly of “astonishingly brief and vague handwritten notes” made long after the events.
Stroilov also said Kuteh's request to call the complainants as witnesses was unreasonably refused on a "false premise" of confidentiality.
Before the hearing, Kuteh said she had no intention of imposing her beliefs on others, and she would sometimes tell patients how her own faith in Christ had helped her overcome adversity.
Giving evidence at the tribunal, Kuteh denied imposing her religion on patients.
"I'm serious about my religion, but I don't think I imposed my religion on patients," she said.
Kuteh said she would sometimes be prompted to initiate religious discussion with patients by questions on the pre-op questionnaire.
"I don't want it to look like it was a habit. I would not always initiate it, only when I'm prompted in the questionnaire," she told the hearing.
Kuteh said she would have liked to have had supervised practice and a weekly review instead of being sacked.
"I love nursing," she said. "I love what I do and I love talking to patients. What I wanted the trust to have done was to give me the opportunity to show a change."
An appeal was heard against Kuteh's dismissal but a panel backed the decision to fire her.
Victoria Leivers-Carruth, who chaired the hospital trust's appeal hearing, said the panel believed Kuteh was using her one-on-one time with patients to "impose her religious beliefs" on them.
"We did not believe that Kuteh was being disciplined because she was a Christian," she said.
"It was apparent to us that Mrs. Kuteh was disciplined because she had engaged in conversations about religion that were unwanted by patients and contrary to her line manager's instructions."
Leivers-Carruth said the appeal panel was satisfied the questions about religion on the questionnaire would not prompt the type of further religious discussion that occurred with Kuteh.
And the appeal panel agreed that Collins' decision to dismiss Kuteh was "entirely appropriate".
See a portrait of Kuteh in the Tweet below.