Spiritual care in a secular health service

By Simon Barrow
April 8, 2009

As the current debate about how chaplaincy should be funded illustrates, handling spiritual needs in a plural health system can be tricky.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. In the Nursing Times recently, Imam Yunus Dudhwala, who is the multifaith manager at Newham University Hospital NHS Trust in London, tackled this issue thoughtfully and intelligently. The article is here: http://tinyurl.com/cq9fks

'Why health chaplains are vital', by Professor Stephen G. Wright from the University of Cumbria, has just gone up on our website - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9194

Some months ago Ekklesia also offered a piece by our associate Savi Hensman on 'Targets, markets and a vision of health' - http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/5034

We also published an article by Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, arguing that health chaplaincies should be fully inclusive of non-religious as well as religious people. http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/5936

The discussion on chaplaincy (http://www.healthcarechaplains.org/) sparked by the by the different stances of NSS (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9181), Unite (http://ekklesia.co.uk/node/9183) and others has moved in a familiar direction.

Some want to see religion excluded altogether from public provision (or confuse it with spiritual care per se) while others argue for a privileged place for the church or some other group.

This is a false choice. The NHS can and must support proper spiritual and pastoral care for patients. But that does not inevitably mean propping up particular denominational interests.

Medical ethicist Daniel Sokol, a non-believer, makes this and other valuable points. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7990099.stm

Likewise, churches and faith groups need to take responsibility for their own pastoral duties (as the Catholic Church in Scotland has said), but this does not eliminate the need for professional spiritual and pastoral care within the health system - something that can and should involve people from many different backgrounds.

The future, surely, is in building wholistic care partnerships across all sectors - not ones with gaps staffed only by volunteers. People feel vulnerable when they are in hospital, especially if they might be seriously ill. They need a patchwork of support, not a hole-y blanket.

Also worth looking at in this area is Spirituality and Psychological Health, by Richard H. Cox, Betty Ervin-Cox and Louis Hoffman, published by the School of Professional Psychology at the University of Colorado, 2005.

The 'category tag' linking you to Ekklesia's news and features on this topic is here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/tags/4038

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