Chaplain who says he was 'ousted' by NHS trust pursues legal action

A Catholic chaplain is taking legal action against an NHS trust over claims that he was "ousted" over his same-sex marriage beliefs.

The South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust told Rev Dr Patrick Pullicino in December 2019 that he was being let go because of "the budgetary constraint", according to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which is supporting him in the case.

In a pre-action letter to the trust, Dr Pullicino's lawyers at the CLC argue that the real reason the 73-year-old's services were terminated has nothing to do with budgetary cuts.

A trial is set to take place in July at Croydon Employment Tribunal to hear Rev Pullicino's claim of harassment, religious discrimination, and victimisation against the trust.

Dr Pullicino, a former consultant neurologist, was let go by the trust at the start of 2020.

His departure came not long after a complaint had been made against him by a patient in one of the hospital's mental health wards.

According to the CLC, the male patient who made the complaint had specifically requested to see a Catholic chaplain.

During their meeting in August 2019, CLC said that the patient asked Dr Pullicino for advice about his wish to marry his male partner and shared that his father was upset with him.

In reply, the CLC says Dr Pullicino told the patient that he might be upset too if he were in his father's situation, and encouraged him to try and see things from his father's point of view.

According to the CLC, Dr Pullicino was subsequently told that NHS policy on equality and diversity "supersedes religious standing whilst working and representing the trust". 

A formal investigation was launched by the trust and as conditions for his return to the ward, Dr Pullicino says he was told to re-take an equality and diversity course, and asked to confirm in writing that he accepted his comments "went against trust values and behaviours" and that he had "learnt from this incident".

A few months after the incident, Dr Pullicino was informed that he was being let go because of budget cuts and asked to return his ID.

Speaking on his decision to pursue legal action, Dr Pullicino claims he was "bullied into a corner" by the trust.

"I am determined to seek justice in this case as how I was treated was unacceptable," he said.

"To see in black and white that my Christian beliefs in marriage, that have been taught for thousands of years, are not on a par with equality and diversity, was shocking."

He said he felt that Christian chaplains who share his views "are being silenced or forced out entirely" from chaplaincies in the NHS and beyond.

"There does not appear to be a place for Christian teaching or belief in the NHS," he said.

"In a truly democratic society where all faiths and beliefs are respected, I would not have been treated as I was.

"I hope my case sends a message to the NHS that true equality and diversity includes Christian teaching and beliefs."

CLC chief executive, Andrea Williams, said: "How many more of these cases do we need before society wakes up? We need 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 continued, "This story is one in a long line of stories that sends a chilling message to NHS chaplains that you can no longer respond to questions on human sexuality with standard biblical teaching.

"You must self-censor, affirm at all costs, or face the consequences. We are acting to say that this has to end and will end."

A spokesperson from South West London and St George's Mental Health NHS Trust said: "Whilst we can't comment on active legal proceedings, we are absolutely committed to promoting equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) for all our staff, patients and communities.

"We have an EDI policy which we actively promote and with which we expect all our staff members to comply. We respect and celebrate all the protected characteristics of our staff, patients and communities equally.

"We take seriously our responsibility to ensure patients' spiritual needs are met and we oppose any form of discrimination. We seek to protect all of our patients and members of staff in line with the Equality Act 2010."