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National Secular Society

Challenging Religious Privilege

New study of chaplains shows little benefit to clinical outcomes

A study of NHS trusts in England has shown that £29m of healthcare money was used to pay for hospital chaplains in 2009/10. The study revealed that many of the country’s best hospitals spent the lowest proportion of their expenditure on chaplaincy services and concluded that the NHS wastes millions every year on services that have no clinical benefit.

Statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.

English NHS Trusts were asked how much they spent on hospital chaplaincy services using the Freedom of Information Act. The proportion that trusts spent on chaplaincy was compared to how well it performed on national quality ratings. The results showed huge variations in the proportions that similar hospitals spend, and that if all NHS Trusts brought their spending into line with the best trusts, savings of £18.5m a year would be made. £18.5m p.a. could pay for 1,000 nursing assistants or a brand new community hospital every year.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the National Secular Society, said: “Tax payers will be shocked to learn how much healthcare money is diverted into paying for chaplaincy services. The cash-strapped NHS should spend its money on front line services. It has been common knowledge for well over a year that massive cuts were on the way and it was recently reported that the NHS is to lose 50,000 jobs, including doctors and nurses. Yet our study showed that chaplaincy costs rose by 7% in the last year. This study shows that massive savings can be made immediately with no impact on clinical care. At a time when the NHS is under financial pressure, every hospital will want to use this benchmarking information to bring their chaplaincy costs into line with the best in their field.

“The National Secular Society is not seeking to oust chaplains from hospitals, but their cost should not be borne by public funds, especially when clinical services for patients are being cut. Many priests or their equivalents in other religions offer their services voluntarily, and this should become the norm. Alternatively, we have proposed that chaplaincy services should be paid for through charitable trusts, supported by churches and their parishioners. If churches really support ‘the big society’ then they will stop siphoning off NHS cash to fund chaplains’ salaries.”

All 227 English NHS provider trusts responded to an FOI enquiry asking how much they spent on chaplaincy services in 2009/10.

The study compared the percentage of each trust’s total income spent on chaplaincy services to the trust’s performance on Standards for Better Health and the Standardised Mortality Rate (the national quality benchmarks for 2009/10). Statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.

Applying the practice of the most efficient trusts to the whole NHS showed that from the total £29m spend, £18.5m savings could be made every year.

Our Director, Keith Porteous Wood was a resident guest in an hour long phone-in earlier in the week on Radio 5 Live. It was clear that the public are on our side, particularly if they are asked whether chaplains or front line staff such as doctors, nurses or cleaners should be subject to job cuts. And even Daily Mail readers thought so, by a margin of more than 2 to 1.

We hope Pennine Acute Hospitals NHS Trust will bear this in mind when, as part of its money-saving efforts, it is preparing to cut 10% of its staff. We wonder if the 8.5 chaplains that cost the Trust more than £400,000 in wages alone will be included in this cull?

Read the study in full: Costing the heavens: Chaplaincy services in English NHS provider Trusts 2009/10

Published Fri, 04 Mar 2011