BY DAVID V BARRETT
A CATHOLIC HOSPITAL worker has been threatened with the sack for wearing a crucifix – even though it is hidden under her uniform.
Helen Slatter, 43, is a phlebotomist at the Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, collecting blood samples. Hospital authorities have told her that she may carry the cross in her pocket, but not around her neck, under regulations covering the wearing of jewellery.
She was told at a disciplinary meeting last Friday that she would be sent home if she continued to wear the crucifix on a chain around her neck.
The NHS has tightened restrictions since Health Secretary Alan Johnson announced a new dress code for hospital staff last September to help reduce the spread of hospital infections such as MRSA and C. difficile. This includes the “bare arms” policy, and not wearing wristwatches. Hospital staff are not allowed to wear any jewellery when they are in contact with patients apart from plain ear studs and one ring, such as a wedding band.
“Necklaces and chains present two problems,” said a spokesman for the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Trust. “Firstly, they can 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 the member of staff.” But Miss Slatter, who worships at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Gloucester, is unrepentant.
“I’ve always worn my cross inside my uniform. It means a lot to me. They’ve told me I can carry it in my pocket but that simply isn’t the same. I can’t go along with that,” she said.
“My faith is important to me but I’m not a Biblebasher, I don’t push it on colleagues or other people. Now I have to choose between my job and my faith and that’s an awful situation to be in.” In February a 71-year-old nurse, Anand Rao, was dismissed by Leicestershire NHS Trust in February apparently for advising patients to go to church to alleviate stress.
He is considering legal action against the trust said is being represented by the Christian Legal Centre. But a spokesman for the Trust claimed that Mr Rao had “continuously shown a disregard for the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s code of conduct which he had breached on more than one occasion”, and that he “showed little regard for the standards of care and professionalism that are expected of him as a nurse.”