Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust – Nurse dismissed after “preaching” to patients fails in unfair dismissal claim

In the case of Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust ET/2302764/2016 the Employment Tribunal held that a nurse was fairly dismissed on allegations that she had engaged in inappropriate discussions with patients regarding religion.

The background facts in Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust

Ms Kuteh, who is a committed, Christian, commenced her employment with the Trust as a registered nurse on 1 April 2017 and was promoted to the position of ‘Sister’ in 2012. In November 2015 she was transferred to a pre-assessment role which involved carrying out between six and twelve pre-assessment checks on patients who were due to undergo surgery. A standard checklist was used to carry out these checks, and this form included questions on the religion of the patient.

In March and April 2016 Ms Kuteh’s manager, Ms Putland, was informed that patients had complained to staff in the department that Ms Kuteh had been raising issues of religion and faith with them when going through the pre-assessment checks. In total, five patients complained in March and April 2016, and their complaints included that Ms Kuteh had “preached” to them and that one patient had been informed that if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival from surgery for cancer. Ms Putland informed the matron, Ms Gill, and on 11 April 2016 Ms Gill told Ms Kuteh that discussions with patients regarding their religion were inappropriate and should not take place in the future. Ms Kuteh assured Ms Gill that she would not discuss religion further with patients. However, two further complaints of a similar nature were made by patients in May 2016. Ms Gill was informed of these complaints and a disciplinary investigation meeting was arranged to take place. In the meantime, a further complaint was made by a patient on 20 June 2016 that Ms Kuteh had discussed religion with him.

On 30 June 2016 a meeting took place between the appointed investigator, Ms Shepherd, and Ms Kuteh. In that meeting Ms Kuteh accepted that she was aware that she had been instructed not to discuss religion with patients but that she felt that such an instruction was unreasonable, but she accepted that she could see how some patients may find discussions regarding religion to be inappropriate and admitted failing to follow reasonable management instructions. In her report Ms Shepherd recommended that the matter be progressed to a disciplinary hearing.

A disciplinary hearing took place in August 2016 and, by way of a letter dated 18 August 2016, Ms Kuteh was dismissed for failing to follow Ms Gill’s reasonable management instruction in April 2016, inappropriate conduct in discussing the topic of religion with patients, and breaching the nursing and midwifery code in expressing her personal beliefs to people in an inappropriate way. Ms Kuteh appealed that decision, with one of the grounds of appeal having been that she had not been given copies of the notes of the evidence of the patients who had complained. Ms Kuteh was not given permission to  but her appeal was dismissed.

Ms Kuteh brought a claim to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal and, further, for a finding that her human rights had been breached (namely the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

The Employment Tribunal’s decision

The Employment Tribunal found that Ms Kuteh’s dismissal had been fair, as there had been a fair investigation into serious allegations and that there had been a fair hearing. The Tribunal also found that there was no necessity for Ms Shepherd to have interviewed, for the purposes of the disciplinary hearing, the patients who had complained and that there was no obligation for Ms Kuteh to have been provided with copies of the patients’ complaints. The Tribunal also found that the dismissing officer held an honest belief on reasonable grounds that Ms Kueth was guilty of the charges, and that the dismissal was therefore in the range of reasonable responses.

Our lawyers’ comments on the case

Chris Hadrill, a specialist employment solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “This case shows that employees should be careful when expressing personal opinions relating to religious or philosophical beliefs in the workplace – in some circumstances such personal opinions may be protected under discrimination legislation but, in other circumstances, as in this case, such expressions of personal opinion may lead to dismissal.”

The judgment of the Employment Tribunal in the case of Kuteh v Dartford & Gravesham NHS Trust can be found here.