Saturday, 7 February 2009

Christian Nurse Back On The Job

Caroline Petrie, the nurse who was suspended for offering to pray for a patient will be allowed to continue working.

The statement from the North Somerset Primary Care Trust reads in full:

New statement regarding Caroline Petrie, North Somerset nurse

Issued 5 February 2009

NHS North Somerset have contacted bank nurse Caroline Petrie with a view to her returning back to work as soon as she feels able. We have always been keen to bring this matter to a timely resolution. It has been a distressing and difficult time for Caroline and all staff involved.

We recognise the concerns raised by the many people who have contacted us about this situation. We feel we were right to investigate the concerns from people about Caroline’s actions. We are always respectful of our patients’ views, and we will always strive to ensure our staff meet professional standards such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code of Conduct and any policies and procedures which are designed to maintain high standards.

However, we are keenly aware of the importance of an individual’s spiritual belief, and we recognise that Caroline felt that she was acting in the best interests of her patients. For some people of faith, prayer is seen as an integral part of health care and the healing process. That is why NHS services in North Somerset offer spiritual support such as chaplaincy and prayer rooms, for example, available for use by people of all faiths.

It is acceptable to offer spiritual support as part of care when the patient asks for it.

But for nurses, whose principal role is giving nursing care, the initiative lies with the patient and not with the nurse. Nurses like Caroline do not have to set aside their faith, but personal beliefs and practices should be secondary to the needs and beliefs of the patient and the requirements of professional practice.

We are glad to make this position clear so that Caroline and other staff who have a faith continue to offer high quality care for patients while remaining committed to their beliefs. We hope Caroline can return to work as soon as she feels able. For more information please contact Communication Team

I think this is an excellent statement.  It balances the needs of patients for autonomy and privacy with respect to their religious beliefs, and with the desire of religious people to bring what “spiritual comfort” to their patients that they can. 

I think it is obvious that a very religious patient might receive considerable solace from a prayer with their carer, regardless of the actual efficacy of that action, and it would be wrong to deny those patients who explicitly request it that solace.  But at the same time, it is wrong to impose your version of “religious solace” on an unwilling or even a disinterested third party.

As secularists, we do not want to stop people believing in or acting upon their religious beliefs.  Indeed, it is almost a necessary element of secularism that we be in favour of freedom of belief for religious believers, but we know that their freedom of belief stops the moment another person might be affected – if that other person does not consent to the religious practise, then it stops being a matter of the freedom of religion of the practitioner and it becomes a matter of balancing competing rights of freedom of religion, and the other person’s rights to autonomy and privacy.

There is one point that was made in an earlier press statement by the North Somerset PCT which hasn’t been covered in the most recent statement:

There are grounds for wondering whether the nurse’s sincere faith convictions about the efficacy of intercessory prayer are more strongly held than her commitment to a pattern of practice consistent with her professional role.

It does appear that Ms Petrie has a higher level of trust in the curative power of intercessory prayer than the evidence warrants (ie she believes that it is not totally worthless).  It is worrying that Ms Petrie would make statements to the Guardian such as

She said she had seen her supplications have real effects on patients, including a Catholic woman whose urine infection cleared up days after she said a prayer.

I still think that the Nursing and Midwifery Council Code might have something to say about that:

You must deliver care based on the best available evidence or best practice


You must ensure any advice you give is evidence based if you are suggesting healthcare products or services

Ms Petrie should continue to do the excellent job she has been doing, and ensure that she restricts her spiritual assistance to those patients who willingly request it from her.

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