Christian patients at John Howard Centre win legal battle against NHS trust over religious discrimination

The John Howard Centre in Homerton.

The John Howard Centre in Homerton. - Credit: Archant

Weekly church services will now be held at Homerton’s John Howard Centre after Christian patients won a legal battle against NHS bosses on grounds of religious discrimination.

The East London Foundation Trust (ELFT), which runs the medium secure unit in Kenworthy Road, eventually agreed to hold Sunday services after lawyers at the Christian Legal Centre hit them with a second pre-action letter.

A group of patients had claimed they were vicitms of direct and indirect discrimination because while Jummahs - Islamic Friday prayers - are written into the curriculum, there was no regular Sunday service or holy communion.

The John Howard Centre treats people with mental health problems who have been arrested or convicted of crimes.

One patient, who gave his name only as Esa, began complaining through internal channels in January 2018 when he arrived at the unit.

He told the Gazette earlier this year: "We've been asking for ages and they haven't really given us a reason why. They just say it's obligatory for Muslims to have services but that it's not for Christians.

"We have said: 'Excuse me, it's obligatory for you to cater for all religions' but they just haven't done it.

"At the end of the day, sinners need Jesus."

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The legal centre in central London took on the case in January.

Solicitor Philip Ross-Smith said: "It got to the pre-action stage and the trust eventually, after a long time toing and froing, acknowledged there should be a service.

"It seems a bit bizarre that a situation like this could have arisen in a British NHS trust facility.

"The rights of Muslim patients are taken seriously and adequate provision is made for them but a Christian has to take 18 months to get a basic service."

Mr Ross-Smith highlighted the importance of faith for patients in the unit.

"It's very important for them," he said "There's a lot of badly damaged individuals. They are not angels and spiritual support for them is absolutely vital."

An ELFT spokesperson said: "We work hard to make sure people are entitled to equal rights when it comes to practicing their religious beliefs. We believe strongly in making sure everyone is able to observe their faith.

"The Spiritual and Religious Department have dedicated Christian ministers who work diligently to attend to individual service users' needs. The sacrament of holy communion is offered to all Christians at the centre, and a weekly Christian service will be available for all to attend starting this Sunday."