NHS chaplaincies and spiritual care

By Press Office
April 10, 2009

Commenting on a call by the National Secular Society for an end to state funding for NHS chaplaincies, Simon Barrow, co-director of the religion and society think-tank Ekklesia, said: “Spiritual and pastoral care is an important part of health, healing and care for the dying. You can’t reduce health care to needles and dustpans. But that isn’t the same as saying that the NHS should pay for exclusively denominational chaplains. An inclusive approach is needed.

"It’s an area where there are opportunities for creative partnership between decently-funded hospitals and trusts, voluntary groups, faith bodies and those with a pastoral concern for the non-religious too. A forward-thinking review and reliable data, both qualitative and quantitative, is called for.”

"However, we question the idea that spiritual care in the NHS should be provided and funded exclusively by the religious. That assumes that the two are simply synonymous - whereas for many, they are not. Also, people needing more than clinical treatment should not be reduced to reliance on charity."

“As far as Christians are concerned the spiritual care of the sick, and the provision of resources to do this, remains a basic obligation of the church community. They cannot rely on the general taxpayer to foot the bill for this. The role of the church for those in its specific care, and the NHS in supporting patients from a variety of backgrounds, may also be different. But they can work together.”

In a further comment on 10 April, he added: “What this debate has indicated is that there is a need for more serious discussion about the role and funding of spiritual and pastoral care in the health service. This is something including, but certainly not limited to, considerations of religion. Chaplaincy has grown into something much more inclusive and professional than it used to be, and this is a positive development. The NHS is not there to fund church or religious groups, but it can quite legitimately employ the skills and expertise of people from such bodies, alongside others, in meeting the palliative and whole-person needs of patients of all beliefs and none.”

More: 'Spiritual care in a secular health service' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9187

Also on Ekklesia: 'Why health chaplains are vital', by Professor Stephen G. Wright - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9194

'The job of nurturing well-being', by Mark Vernon - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9196

'How much does health chaplaincy cost?' by Matt Wardman - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9200

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.