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Praying for patients should not be grounds for NHS disciplinary action, doctors say

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Doctors are demanding that NHS staff be given a right to discuss spiritual issues with patients as well as being allowed to offer to pray for them. They say that such matters should not trigger NHS disciplinary action as far as they handle them sensitively.

The issue has been raised in a series of critical motions that were debated at the British Medical Association's conference in Liverpool during a session on medical ethics today. There has been concern among doctors and nurses that even offering to talk about such matters could be grounds for suspension.

Concerns as to what is professionally appropriate have been highlighted by the Christian Legal Centre, a sister-organisation of CCFON, in the case of a nurse, Caroline Petrie, 45, a wife and mother of two from Weston-super-Mare. Mrs Petrie was suspended by North Somerset NHS Trust after offering to pray for a patient, although she was later allowed to return to work. She said she never forced her Christian beliefs on any of her patients but simply asked if an elderly woman would appreciate the blessing.

(See http://www.ccfon.org/view.php?id=680)

In the current debate, the Department of Health deflected the issue, saying it is a responsibility of chaplains in the National Health Service.

'We are committed to the principle of ensuring that patients and staff in the NHS have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith or belief system they follow,' said a spokeswoman for the agency.

'Although all staff should be sensitive to religious needs and preferences of patients, the delivery of spiritual care should be provided by the hospital chaplaincy service.’

Joyce Robins, co-director of Patient Concern said: 'Most complaints from patients are about being on a conveyor belt of care. They don't rate with staff as real people.

'Offering to say a prayer is a warm and kind thought. Most patients will accept it as such. It is no more offensive than being offered a sleeping pill. You can say thanks but that sort of thing isn't my cup of tea.’

However, many doctors expressed their concerns with the current situation.

Cancer specialist Dr Bernadette Birtwhistle, who works in hospitals across Yorkshire, said:

‘I think it is getting to the point where many of us feel we cannot talk to patients about their spiritual or religious needs or ask them about praying.

‘Christianity is being seen as something that is unhelpful. Freedom of speech is being curtailed too much and I don't think that is always in the benefit of patients,’ she added.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities at the BMA, said it was ‘hugely important that it's done right and sensitively’.

Jenny Taylor wrote on the Lapido Media blog: 'A controversy over praying for patients goes to the heart of our cultural crisis. Only a fool would deny the influence of Christianity on medical provision around the world. The religion was founded by a healer, after all, not a technocrat or a warrior. It was on this government’s watch that a report was sanctioned saying the spiritual mattered in successful service delivery.

'Yet there have been so many examples of local authorities stamping on the impulses of carers who reach out with the love that motivates them, that the General Medical Council is having to debate the issue today.

'Prayer is a way of loving, someone once said. If it is treason to love, it is treason to be human.

'If you censure the goose you will lose the golden egg. When Christian motivation is constrained, what will be left? The Bible tells Christians to pray for the sick, and to ‘go on praying’ at all times, and with sensible guidelines, there need be nothing to fear.'

(See http://blog.lapidomedia.com/2009/07/01/treasonable-prayer/)

BBC News

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/8116497.stm

Daily Telegraph

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/5673630/Doctors-and-nurses-demand-right-to-pray-for-patients.html

Daily Mail

www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-1196049/Doctors-want-right-pray-patients-fear-reprisal.html

Guardian

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/jun/29/doctors-can-pray-for-patients

Daily Telegraph (Commentary)

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/georgepitcher/100001426/doctors-are-right-to-fight-for-the-power-of-prayer/

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