Hospital chaplains – MPs push to make them a statutory requirement

Editorial by Terry Sanderson
The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Chaplaincy in the NHS – which is supported by 40 MPs from different religions – has said it will “name and shame” hospital trusts failing to provide chaplains from a required range of religions. The new grouping will attempt to force all NHS hospitals to provide a Catholic chaplain by making it a legal requirement.

The new group was formed with backing from former Conservative leader and Catholic Iain Duncan Smith, and will be chaired by shadow Health Minister, Mike Penning, an Anglican. The group will press for all major religions and denominations to be represented in hospital chaplaincies if they are present in the local population. Mr Penning said such hordes of clerics were necessary because the idea of “multi-faith” chaplains was “unsatisfactory”. All these chaplains are to be employed at the NHS Trusts’ expense.

Father Peter Scott, a national chaplain liaison officer and chaplain co-ordinator at Westminster Diocese, who pushed for the formation of the parliamentary committee, said: “The aim is to make chaplaincy services a statutory requirement, as it already is in prisons, the armed forces and higher education, but not in hospitals. In the NHS core principles there is nothing specific about the religious and spiritual needs of patients and staff.”

This latest push follows from the publication of a report from the Theos “Christian think tank” which revealed that hospitals in dire financial straits were cutting chaplaincy services in order to save medical and nursing jobs. Since then, the pressure has been increasing from the churches for this trend to be reversed.

When it was discovered that the Worcester Royal NHS Hospital Trust had cut its chaplaincy service to save money, the churches went into overdrive. Their pressure – as usual – has paid off and the Trust has been forced to announce that chaplaincy provision for its three hospitals will be part of the budget again next year – albeit that this is only a third of the previous complement.

As the churches push to dip into the stretched funds of hospitals around the country, the Bromley Hospitals Trust has announced that it has debts of £99 million and will have to lay off hundreds of staff. Drug orders have been slashed. London NHS doctors face a reduction in the supplement they get for living in the capital. The London Evening Standard reports that a superbug vaccine that could save thousands of lives has been shelved because of a funding crisis.

Perhaps the time has come, in the face of the financial crisis within the NHS, for the churches to examine their conscience and ask what moral right they have to demand money from such a service to finance something that should be their own responsibility? Why don’t they pay for the chaplains out of their own gigantic resources?

We’ve said it before, and we stick by it: these chaplains are parasites on a service that is there first and foremost to provide medical treatment and health care. When are we going to see the All Party Parliamentary Group for Making the Church Pay its Share?

16 November 2007