As a former Registered Nurse, I was hugely disappointed, but not at all surprised to read of the nurse suspended for offering to pray with a patient (note, offering and not actually doing it).
When I trained all those years ago, the Roper-Logan-Tierney Activities of Daily Living structured our assessment and care planning; it is a 12-part model of normal function, of which death and dying was a key component – get real everyone, we are all dying. In that we always understood that to be a facet oif the spiritual expression, and saw that spirituality (with a small ‘s’) was a part of everyone’s life, and hence what we would in the later critical pathways models term their their death trajectory (Glaser and Strauss, I believe). To ignore a person’s spiritual needs was to ignore part of their Activities of Daily Living; if a person says “no, thank you” to prayer then they have had the opportunity to express that. To discipline a nurse for fulfilling the total care of a patient is reprehensible and the managers of care in Somerset have shown themselves to be ignorant, agnostic and not vested in good nursing pratice.
I loved nursing with a passion: it was about, as an ITU Sister colleague once described moderated love: the extension of care in difficult and often trying circumstances (I specialised in ITU and Coronary Care). I prayed often for my patients, especially those sailing close to the edge of death, and especially for those who had been gathered into the loving arms of God. I almost always prayed as I worked, without them being aware of it. On a precious few occasions, when asked by the patient, I prayed with them. I even had the privilege once in ITU of administering holy communion in the form of the most precious blood via a syringe down a nasogastric tube supervised by the hospital chaplain – the patient was unable to swallow and on a ventilator so the host was not a viable option for him, and is the best teaching I can give to show that Christ is fully present in both sacraments – if you can’t receive in both kinds, then Christ is still full present in the one. It was my first time administering communion, and as a lay person I felt truely privileged. And, do you know, after that communion, that patient was transformed: renewed, restored and psychologically far better equipped for the long road of recovery that long-term ITU treatment calls for: the prayer and sacrament was instrumental in his healing.
Last Summer I went into hospital for an operation on my shoulder. Whilst in the Outpatients at RNOH Stanmore, I met a very worried man of South Asian extraction; I have assumed that he was an Oriental Orthodox, maybe Keralian or somesuch, but he told me his story and asked for prayer. We prayed, although I explained that I was a patient and not a chaplain there! He was in such spiritual distress, and anxiety over a potential tumour that he needed to reach out for support to Christ. We prayed. I blessed him. I gave him my card. He called me two days ago – his surgery in the summer showed the tumour was a benign growth, and he is fine; he has just been blessed by his third child, another boy and all is well. Deo Gratias! That man needed prayer. Who would deny him that?
Prayer is good. Prayer heals. If staff are able to support this significant and highly specialised therapy, then that should be encouraged. Expression of Spiritual Needs is a significant element of daily living, or as St Paul exhorted us to do: “pray without ceasing”