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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

Health Trust Should Save Nurses’ Jobs, Not Publicly-Funded Chaplains'

Worcester Acute Health Trust was urged by the National Secular Society to stick by its decision to cut the number of chaplains it employs and not to give in to religious pressure.

In a letter to John Rostill, chief executive of Worcester Acute Hospitals Trust, Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “We hope that you will stick by your decision and not be intimidated by this self-serving pressure – the latest being from the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. Patients would prefer their money to be spent on treatment, rather than prayers. We have no doubt that your service users would agree that it would be far better to save the jobs of nurses rather than publicly-funded chaplains, particularly as each chaplain released will save enough to retain two nurses.

Mr Porteous Wood quoted statistics demonstrating the dramatic decline in church attendance over the last 60 years and a study showing widespread indifference to religion. He noted: “I have often heard patients say that hospital chaplains’ visits are, at best, an unwelcome intrusion.”

Mr Wood said: “Hospitals should not be pouring tens of millions of pounds into this service that would hardly be missed if it went. Hospitals’ top priority should be medical treatment leaving spiritual care to those in the many churches and other places of worship.”

He added “There is no reason why the minority of people who want religious support while in hospital cannot call on the services of their own vicar, rabbi or imam, whom most will know and already have some kind of relationship with. Even for those who do not already have a relationship with a local religious figure, the established Church is keen to remind us that it has ‘a mission to the nation’. If the religious authorities want to keep this service they should pay for it.”

He added that he hoped that the Trust would not feel intimidated by false claims that the Human Rights Act requires hospitals to pay for chaplains in order to ensure freedom of worship. “While any Trust actively seeking to suppress freedom of worship may have a case to answer, the HRA does not oblige any Trust to pay for religious ministrations.”

The statistics he quoted were that church attendance has declined continuously over the last 60 years, and Christian researchers forecast Sunday church attendance to drop by 2040 to around a quarter of current levels to just 2% of the population[1]. A recent Home Office Citizenship Survey showed religion came just ninth in the list of priorities when respondents were asked “what says something important about you if you were describing yourself”[2].

[1] UK Christian Handbook Religious Trends 2005/2006 Table 12.13 publ Christian Research ISBN 1-85321-160-5
[2] Home Office Research Study 274 Religion in England and Wales: findings from the 2001 Home Office Citizenship Survey publ 2004


Published Tue, 05 Sep 2006