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British nurse faces dismissal after offering to pray with patient

World News

Caroline Petrie, a committed Christian since she was 10, is facing dismissal as a nurse in the Weston-super-Mare, 142 miles (225 kilometres) west of London, after being suspended for offering to pray for an elderly patient suffering from leg injuries.

"We have had two separate concerns reported from a carer and a patient about her actions," Richard Forshaw, head of communications at the North Somerset Primary Care Trust ,told Ecumenical News International. "The Nursery and Midwifery Council code of conduct makes it clear that nurses ‘must not use professional status to promote causes that are not related to health’. This is not the first time that she has been warned about promoting her faith at work."

Forshaw said, "I cannot predict what will happen. We have to be respectful of our patients’ views as well as those of our staff."

The suspension of Petrie, a community nurse aged 45 who has two children, and who left the Church of England to become a Methodist after her mother’s death from cancer, received much attention in several British newspapers.

"Persecuted for Praying" the Daily Mail stated in a headline. In an editorial, the paper asked, "Why is it that the institutions of modern Britain seem determined to protect any faith or lifestyle – provided it is not Christian?" The Daily Telegraph carried a headline, "Nurse suspended for offering to pray for elderly patient’s recovery".

The patient concerned was May Phippen, 79, a great-grandmother who was treated at home by Petrie on 15 December.

After treating and bandaging her legs, Petrie asked her patient if she would like to pray with her. The patient declined that offer. "It didn’t worry me, it just struck me as a strange thing for a nurse to do," said Phippen, herself a Christian and regular churchgoer. The following day, Petrie was confronted by a nursing sister who told her that Phippen had been "taken aback" by the prayer offer.

Later, Petrie was suspended and she told journalists, "It’s unbelievable … I hadn’t upset the patient. I didn’t think there was any harm asking a question. It’s not forcing my Christian faith on a patient."

She awaits the outcome of an internal disciplinary hearing on 28 January. Some medical sources said she faces the possibility of losing her job as a community nurse, or continuing if she leaves her faith at home, something she says she could not do. Petrie has worked part-time for the North Somerset Authority since February 2008. She qualified as a nurse in 1985.

The recently-formed Christian Legal Centre is supporting her case. Andrea Williams, the founder and director of CLC, said in a statement, "It is of huge concern that Christian citizens, whose desire is to do their jobs, are increasingly being silenced and pushed out of the ‘public sphere’ because of equality and diversity policies."

(c) Ecumenical News International

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