Analysis: British NHS in court to defend attempt to stop staff speaking about their beliefs outside of the workplace

United Kingdom

This week Richard Page will appear in court to challenge a National Health Service ruling that effectively imposes a new “Test Act,” requiring employees not to make any comments outside of the workplace that contradict the Trust’s politically correct view of “equality.” Until March last year Mr Page was both a magistrate and a non-executive director of Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust (KMPT). However, while sitting as a magistrate during an adoption hearing, he expressed the view that it was “generally in the best interests” of a child to have both a mother and father. Complaints that this contravened “equality” policies led to him being removed from being a magistrate. After he spoke about this on television, the Chairman of the NHS Trust arranged for Mr Page to be suspended from his (entirely unrelated) role as trustee. More than 6,000 people voiced their concern about this to the NHS Trust. However, a panel set up to investigate Mr Page’s continuance as a trustee subsequently told him, "It was not in the interests of the health service for you to serve as a non-executive director in the NHS," claiming that his actions were "likely to have had a negative impact on the confidence of staff, patients and the public in you as a local NHS leader."

Mr Page’s case is the latest is a series of attempts to require public sector employees to publicly assent to a particular set of beliefs in order to hold public office. However, it is a particularly disturbing case because Kent and Medway NHS Trust suspended Mr Page, who has given 20 years dedicated service to mental health work, for comments he made that outside of the workplace. To put this into context, between 1719 and 1888 the UK abolished a series of “Test Acts” that prohibited anyone from holding jobs such as teachers, lawyers and university professors unless they publicly subscribed to certain beliefs. In other words, this NHS Trust has effectively sought to turn the clock back on more than 130 years of religious freedom in the UK.

Earlier this week the Daily Telegraph warned that the hearing, which began on Tuesday at the Croydon Employment Tribunal courts, could have major implications for how public bodies treat staff who hold religious beliefs. It stated that Mr Page is expected to warn that “the loss of his job because of his religious beliefs signified a worrying shift away from pluralism towards ideological dictatorship in the health service.”

Read the Daily Telegraph article