Page last updated at 11:31 GMT, Sunday, 20 September 2009 12:31 UK

Row over nurse wearing crucifix

Shirley Chaplin
Shirley Chaplin says she has worn her cross for 30 years without incident

A hospital trust has denied a nurse's claim it is preventing her from openly expressing her religious beliefs.

Shirley Chaplin from Exeter said she had been removed from front-line duties for refusing to remove a crucifix.

But the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust said its uniform and dress code prohibited front-line staff wearing any type of necklace.

The trust said it would only be acceptable to wear a crucifix pinned inside a uniform lapel or pocket.

The trust said it had tried to find a compromise, but wearing a crucifix was not a "requirement of Christian faith".

"Necklaces are worn by other members of staff and the trust has promoted the hospital with photographs of staff wearing necklaces," Mrs Chaplin said.

Responding to the 54-year-old's claim, the trust said in a statement: "We accept lapses on uniform policy may occur among our 6,000 hospital staff and line managers are expected to address it with the individual employee."

Mrs Chaplin has worn her crucifix since she began her nursing studies nearly 30 years ago.

"Everyone I have ever worked with has clearly known I am a Christian - it is what motivates me to care for others," she said.

Breaking strain

"For about 30 years I have worked in the NHS and nursed patients day and night and on no occasion has my cross caused me or anyone else, any injury - and to my knowledge, no patient has ever complained about me wearing it.

"The trust even refused to test the 'breaking strain' on the necklace."

The trust considers the wearing of a necklace to be a risk, albeit small, within a clinical setting
Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust

Mrs Chaplin has sought advice from the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).

Its founder, barrister Andrea Minichiello Williams, said patients would be "astonished" at the trust's actions.

"You cannot separate a person's faith and motivation from other areas of their life, including what they do with the majority of their time: work.

"Unfortunately an aggressive, secularist, politically-correct agenda is being driven in the NHS and other public sectors at present."

The CLC said it intended to assist the nurse in exercising her human rights.

The hospital trust said there was a health and safety issue with regard to the wearing of jewellery.

"We have a duty of care towards our patients and our staff, and the trust considers the wearing of a necklace to be a risk, albeit small, within a clinical setting because patients, particularly those who may be confused, do sometimes grab for items when being moved," the trust statement said.

"This is the first time a member of staff has not co-operated with a request to comply with this policy but no disciplinary action has been taken because we have endeavoured to be sensitive to personal choice, even when not a requirement of faith and when it does not comply with trust policy for all staff."

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