A London NHS Trust has resolved a discrimination case with a Catholic chaplain who was dismissed from his role after he answered a question from a patient on a psychiatric ward regarding the Church’s stance on marriage.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Rev. Dr. Patrick Pullicino, 73, was pursuing a claim against South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust for harassment, religious discrimination, and victimisation.
Pullicino, who had worked in the NHS as a Consultant Neurologist until being ordained as a Catholic priest in 2016, was told equality and diversity take “precedence over religious belief.”
The hearing was set to take place in July 2023 at Croydon Employment Tribunal.
On Friday, the Trust settled the case by awarding him £10,000 in compensation “for perceived injury to feelings.”
‘Supersedes Religious Standing’
In 2019, while employed by the South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust as a part-time Catholic chaplain, Pullicino was assigned to visit a male patient in one of south London’s Springfield Hospital mental health wards who had specifically requested to see a Catholic chaplain.
The patient requested to take a walk with him, during which he told the priest he planned to marry his same-sex partner and asked what he thought about it.
Pullicino was asked what his opinion was as a Catholic priest, and responded by saying: “What do you think God would say to you about this?”
The next day, Pullicino was met by another member of staff who told him he could not enter as a complaint had been lodged against him. He was then told to adhere to the Trust’s Equality and Diversity policy to avoid future complaints and to retake his diversity training.
He was also sent an email that said: “NHS policy on Equality and Diversity in relation to the complaint supersedes religious standing whilst working and representing the trust,” even though religious beliefs as protected under the Equality Act.
Pullicino was then dismissed on budget grounds but volunteered to continue to serve without payment as he was the only Catholic chaplain on site.
He then received an email from the Trust saying: “I need you to know that you are currently not authorised to visit the wards or saying mass [sic] as you are not currently under any terms and conditions or insurance. This will stand until and unless we have agreed in writing for you to have an on-going role in the Trust.”
Vanessa Ford, the acting chief executive of South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, had asserted that the trust’s policy on equality and diversity “takes precedence over religious belief.”
However, during the case, it was found she had accepted that “on reflection” her letter should have been “phrased differently” as “religion and belief is afforded exactly the same rights as the other eight protected characteristics.”
She added that “there was no suggestion that the Trust felt you had told the patient that he would go to hell,” as the complainant alleged.
Throughout the proceedings, the Trust and Ford strongly denied all allegations of religious discrimination.
Government Inquiry Needed
Pullicino was one of the first doctors who first raised concerns over the now-abolished Liverpool Care Pathway (pdf), a controversial protocol that included painkillers and sometimes sedation for dying patients.
In a statement, he was “pleased and relieved” by the outcome but said a government inquiry is urgently needed.
He said it had been: “Crucial to expose the NHS’s disturbing approach to the standard expression of Christian beliefs.”
“The documented downgrading of Christian belief by the Chief Executive undermines not only her NHS trust but also all the patients under her care as well as the chaplains of different faiths that she employs.
“There is a tendency throughout the NHS to force their patients to accept generic “spiritual” care instead of giving support for their Christian beliefs. Christian faith is particularly important in sickness, particularly when in danger of death.
“Limiting this is inhumane, in addition to being outside the law. Good, religion-specific chaplaincy support is under threat in the NHS but is essential in all hospitals. A government inquiry is urgently needed into restoring Hospital Chaplaincy to its rightful place.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said it was “time to see an end to the ideology of equality and diversity riding roughshod over the Christian faith and treating it with such little respect.”
She added that Pullicino’s case was a “worrying trend” that “NHS chaplains risk punishment for responding to questions on human sexuality with standard biblical teaching. They live under pressure to self-censor, affirm at all costs, or face the consequences.”
“This has to change,” she added.
The Epoch Times contacted the South West London and St. George’s Mental Health NHS Trust for comment.
A spokesperson from South West London and St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust said told The Epoch Times by email that it was “pleased that we have agreed an outcome with Mr. Pullicino which avoids the need for further proceedings.
“We remain absolutely committed to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) for our patients, staff, and communities. We respect and celebrate all protected characteristics equally, including religion, race, sexual orientation, disability, age, sex, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.
“We take seriously our responsibility to ensure patients’ spiritual needs are met and we oppose any form of discrimination. We seek to protect all patients and members of staff in line with the Equality Act 2010.”