Devout nurse quits job over crucifix ban

James Woodward,Press Association
Tuesday 23 June 2009 11:34

A Christian hospital worker who was ordered to remove a crucifix "which could harbour infection" has left her job in protest.

Devout Helen Slatter, 43, was told by Gloucestershire Royal Hospital the necklace posed a health and safety risk and could even be used as weapon.

Ms Slatter, a blood sampler - or phlebologist - was not content to accept the hospital's offer that she wear the emblem in her pocket and has now resigned.

The mother of one said she was not willing to choose between her job and her religion, despite the NHS trust insisting the issue was about safety, not faith.

The divorcee told the Gloucestershire Echo: "They made it clear that if I went back the hospital would send me home if I was wearing my crucifix.

"I am not willing to stop wearing it, so I have been left with no choice but to leave my job. They are the NHS and aren't going to back down - I'm not sure if I'd want to work somewhere where I had been treated like this anyway."

When the deadlock occurred last month Mrs Slatter, who worked at the hospital for five years said: "I've always worn my cross and I've always been a Christian. It is important to me. I've worked here for 15 months and if it was an issue, why didn't they let me know in the interview?

"The NHS have spend money training me."

The cross was worn under the uniform, said Ms Slatter who attends St Peter's Catholic Church in London Road.

If she had come back wearing the cross the hospital would have sent her home for reasons of "health and safety and infection control", she revealed.

A spokesman for Gloucestershire NHS Trust confirmed today that she had handed in her notice. An "informal" non-disciplinary meeting last month failed to reach a solution, the trust said. A fuller statement is expected this afternoon.

When the row erupted in May the trust said: "The issue is not one of religion. The trust employs a uniform policy which must be adhered to at all times.

"Necklaces and chains present two problems - firstly they provide a surface that can harbour and spread infections, and secondly they present a health and safety issue whereby a patient could grab a necklace or chain and cause harm to a member of staff."

Jewellery is restricted to one pair of plain ear studs and one band-type ring on the ring finger, the trust added.

Mrs Slatter finished her shift on May 12 and never returned after being signed off with stress.

The case echoes that of Nadia Eweida, who clashed with British Airways after refusing to take off a crucifix. BA later changed its policy to allow staff to wear a "religious symbol".

Last year bank nurse Caroline Petrie, from Weston-super-Mare, Somerset faced disciplinary action after a patient complained that she had offered to pray for her.

The primary care trust later agreed that she could continue to pray for patients as long as she asked first them if they had any spiritual needs.

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