Wednesday, 7 April 2010

NHS silliness: the infection spreads

(An apparent health and safety risk)

A belated Happy Easter to all readers of HR Case Studies! And on that note . . .

Many readers of this blog will be familiar with the case of Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse moved to a desk job after refusing to remove her crucifix at work. Yesterday she lost her discrimination claim against her employers after an employment tribunal ruled that the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals NHS Trust had acted in a reasonable manner.

The Exeter nurse had claimed the trust was trying to prevent her from expressing her religious beliefs, and confirmed that she had worn her crucifix for most of the 30 years that she has been a nurse.

The NHS Trust argued that actions "were motivated by health and safety"

Devon nurse loses crucifix 'ban' claim at tribunal

The case of Mrs Chaplin was supported by a number of the senior bishops within the Church of England, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton.

In a recent letter to the Daily Telegraph, the bishops stated:

The cross is ubiquitous in Christian devotion from the earliest times and clearly the most easily recognisable Christian symbol. For many Christians, wearing a cross is an important expression of their Christian faith and they would feel bereft if, for some unjustifiable reason, they were not allowed to wear it. To be asked by an employer to remove or "hide" the cross, is asking the Christian to hide their faith.

Is there something about the UK Health Service that it is breeding a group of politically correct but nevertheless downright idiotic policy makers? After all, don't forget that if you're a paramedic in Lancashire, far more important than your ability to care for the seriously injured is your compliance with the regulations to (1) ensure your green shirt is tucked in at all times, (2) only wear footwear (fully polished of course) issued by the trust and (3) ensure (if appropriate) your religious headwear is "clean and laundered." Oh, and most significant of all, (4) comply with the 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Wear Novelty Socks

As far as the claim of the NHS Trust that its actions "were motivated by health and safety" is concerned, I'm in danger of laughing myself into Accident and Emergency.

My literary Health and Safety thought for the day:

“If there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


  1. From my understanding of the situation Ms Chaplin’s employers did not insist that she remove her necklace, just that it was not worn outside her clothing – not to hide her faith but to adhere to health and safety rules. If the NHS have this rule about all chains then I absolutely agree with the decision that the tribunal made.

    From a personal point of view I do not want to be attended to by an individual whose jewellery could potentially cause me harm – whether that be a chain worn by a card carrying Christian or an individual of a gothic persuasion I care not. Equally I would not want to be in the position of having a chain grabbed by an elderly patient who is grabbing at anything because they think they are about to fall as you move them from their bed.

    Is it in the commandments that thou shalt wear a symbol of your faith on a chain around your neck – I think not.

    Perhaps the purveyors of religious paraphernalia should think up a more suitable religious adornment for believers who operate heavy machinery or work in the NHS. A ring maybe or a tasteful tattoo – it doesn’t matter. Although I guess novelty socks is out of the question, well for the NHS at least.


  2. EBTG:

    Thanks for the insightful comment!

    My gripe is actually mainly at the stance of the Trust in claiming that their decision was based on Health and Safety grounds.

    Although I don't believe that there is any compulsion for Mrs C to wear a symbol of her faith, I do consider that the decision to forbid her from doing so on the basis that this might constitute a risk to the Health and Safety of either herself or her patients is at best dubious and at worst potentially discriminatory.

    I thought that the principle of Risk Assessment was to identify the potential consequences of a particular activity in terms of (a) the likelihood of it occurring and (b) the likely impact if it did occur.

    On that basis, I'd rate the wearing of a religious symbol on a (presumably) delicate chain as one which is unlikely to lead to serious harm.

    Being slightly facetious, I assume that the hospital has a number of doors at various locations around its premises. Children are notorious for trapping their fingers in doors. I actually suspect that rarely does a day go by in the Devon and Exeter Trust without medical treatment being given to someone who has trapped their fingers in a door. But I doubt if anyone is calling for doors to be removed to prevent it happening again.

    Life is inherently risky, whether as a nurse, an astronaut or an HR professional. Personally I'm happy to live with that risk, and I guess that Mrs Chaplin is too.

    But novelty socks are another issue altogether!

  3. If necklaces sporting lockets, broken hearts or ‘I love mum’ are allowed (on chains of any variety) then discrimination it most definitely is. If not, then I’m not sure on what basis you believe this to be discriminating against Mrs Chaplin.
    Yes life is risky – you can trap your finger in a door, fall off a chair in the waiting room, faint from standing up too quickly or have a coronary after getting into an argument on a blog. However there are things that one can do to mitigate risks.

    Sounds like a challenge to find a friendly NHS worker to spill the beans on the kinds of risks/injuries that the wearing of jewellery represents in a hospital environment.

    I’ll keep you posted!

    EBTG (who sports no jewellery what so ever, just in case)

  4. EBTG:

    Think we're seriously in danger of agreeing!

    I don't mind what nurses choose to hang around their necks unless it genuinely consitutes a Health and Safety risk.

    If there's clearly no demonstrable risk, then freedom should prevail

  5. As someone who knows this case rather better than you Graham I would sincerely recommend you study more of the facts of this case and rather less of the sensationalist propaganda peddled by the lobbying group that assisted Ms Chaplin in her case.
    During the ET, under questionning, Ms Chaplin admitted that she was not in the slightest bit interested in coming to a compromise despite the 4 that were offered.
    I do agree that H&S is a much misused term but when you have a clinical nurse treating patients who have varying degrees of dementia and an average age of 82 then your (and her) argument of 30 years of an accident not happening are complete nonsense.
    I would also add that, unlike the version in the papers, Shirley "concealed" her cross under her uniform despite numerous supportive requests to remove - long before the issue became formal.
    Also, disciplinary action was never started with this lady - although it is a clear sanction available in the Trust's policy.
    So unfortunately you have been rather "duped" by some very dodgy reporting although thankfully the ET judge wasnt as he had access to the facts! You will too in the next few weeks when the full details of the ET proceedings become publicly available!!

  6. Anonymous (7 April 18:28)

    Thanks for the comment. Perhaps you can add a comment on here when the ET ruling is made public to allow readers to access the full judgement

  7. Nice to hear more details about the case.

    Interestingly, having spoken to my NHS contact the trust he works for (which I am sure is no different from the majority of trusts) ban the wearing of all jewellery including watches - the exception of engagement and wedding rings.

    This makes perfect sense to me from a safely point of view but also from a health/hygiene point of view as well. I am sure that the humble necklace harbours a multitude of germs – from being touch, being put in the mouth etc. For the same reason that I wouldn’t want someone’s hair dangling on me whilst they tended to me, I certainly wouldn’t want someone else’s necklace either (might just be tempted to yank it off).

    Sounds like Ms Chaplin thought herself above the rules of the organisation she worked for – which to me sound like they were there for legitimate reasons. And anyway, I thought being a Christian was about how you live your life not about what you wear.

    Look forward to seeing the full facts of the case as they emerge: over to you Anon.


  8. I will make sure that as soon as i get a copy of the ruling I will it post on here!
    Expect that it will be a couple of weeks yet.
    I would also point out the DoH advice on the following URL:
    which is pretty clear on the wearing of necklaces in the NHS! see pages 2 and 7 of the guide which is circulated to all NHS Trusts.