A nurse was sacked for offering to pray with patients before operations and telling them it would improve their chances of survival, her employment tribunal heard today.
Sister Sarah Kuteh was dismissed for breaching guidelines at Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, even though her job involved asking people preparing for surgery about their religion.
The mother-of-three, who is now suing the hospital for unfair dismissal, said she was offering solace to patients she believed were happy to chat about their beliefs, and described her sacking as 'disproportionate and punitive'.
But one cancer patient facing bowel surgery complained nursing sister Mrs Kuteh told him if he prayed to God he would have a better chance of survival, the tribunal heard.
Another patient told how being subjected to such religious 'fervour' by Mrs Kuteh was 'bizarre', and he compared the experience with a 'Monty Python skit'.
One other patient felt Mrs Kuteh spent more time talking about religion than completing a pre-operative questionnaire, according to statements submitted at an employment tribunal being held in Ashford, Kent.
Eight complaints were made by 'extremely vulnerable' patients facing surgery, and Mrs Kuteh was sacked last August and referred to the Nursing and Midwifery Council for disqualification proceedings.
Pavel Stroilov, representing Mrs Kuteh, said in skeleton argument that nurses were meant to care for people facing hardship and suffering.
He said: 'A nurse without compassion would be unworthy of the name. On top of performing her immediate duties, a good nurse would try and find kind words to say to her patient.'
But Sarah Collins, general manager for medicine at Darent Valley Hospital, who chaired Mrs Kuteh's first disciplinary hearing, said her 'spirituality blurred the professional boundary' between herself and patients.
Mrs Collins said in a statement: 'Despite having been warned against such behaviour on two occasions, she persisted with questioning patients on religious grounds.
'Following reasonable management requests formed a pivotal aspect of Mrs Kuteh's contract of employment with the Trust.'
Mrs Collins said there had been a 'fundamental breach of trust and confidence'. And she felt Mrs Kuteh had not learned from her mistakes and would not change her behaviour.
'Mrs Kuteh's assertion that she felt compelled to continue to hold religious discussions with patients concerned me,' Mrs Collins added in her statement.
Mr Stroilov said Mrs Kuteh was not 'adequately informed' of the allegations against her by Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust before an investigatory meeting.
And the substantive evidence of patients' complaints was 'wholly unsatisfactory', consisting mainly of 'astonishingly brief and vague handwritten notes' made long after the events, he added.
Mr Stroilov also said Mrs Kuteh's request to call the complainants as witnesses was unreasonably refused on a 'false premise' of confidentiality.
Before the hearing, Mrs Kuteh said she had no intention of imposing her beliefs on others, and she would sometimes tell patients how her own faith in Christ had helped her overcome adversity.
The row came at a time when Theresa May told MPs that Christians should feel able to speak about their faith at work.
Last year Mrs Kuteh broke down in tears as she recalled being suspended and escorted from Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent.
She said: 'It was embarrassing for me – and painful after all I had done in my years as a nurse. I was told I couldn't even speak to my colleagues. All I had done was to nurse from my heart. How could it be harmful to tell someone about Jesus?'
But bosses at Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust said her 'unwanted discussions' had upset patients and she had also failed to heed warnings that she was being unprofessional.
Mrs Kuteh, a committed Christian who started nursing in London before moving to Dartford in 2007, became a sister in 2012 while working in the intensive care department. She started a new role in November 2015, assessing patients' health before they underwent surgery. Part of her job was helping them complete a questionnaire, which included a question on religion.
She admitted she may have spoken to a few patients without their express permission when she first began the job. But she was more careful after a warning in April this year that there had been complaints and her approach breached conduct guidelines about discussing personal beliefs.