More on Hospital Chaplains

Following on from my earlier post, I have decided to write a more serious post about the funding of hospital chaplaincy.  I have already had a couple of comments on my views, and I’d like to justify my take on the matter.

I’ll start by making it clear that my reasoning for NHS funded chaplains stems from more than the fact that I am a Christian, and a churchgoer myself.  Judging by some of the comments I have picked up on (see, for example, the BBC Have Your Say), there are a lot of ignorant people out there and that, perhaps more than anything else, is what has annoyed me.

One of the arguments for cutting NHS funded chaplaincies is that ordinary vicars (and presumably leaders of other faiths) could go in to hospitals and visit members of their own communities and congregations instead.  I can’t give a definite viewpoint about other faith groups, but let me assure you that vicars already do that.  The majority of churchgoers will already have their own Christian pastoral support if they want it.

On that basis, I suppose you could argue that the chaplaincy role is completely superfluous.  Interestingly, however, I know a couple of people who have worked as hospital chaplains, and the impression I get is that the role is a far cry from having a tea and a chat with the odd religious patient.  The job of chaplain is very clearly a demanding and draining one, and the majority of people who go for pastoral support are not strongly religious, if indeed they are at all.

Some people evidently think that the NHS is paying for chaplains purely for the benefit of religious patients, or that where people without faith ask for support the role of chaplain is all about Bible Bashing.  What utter rubbish.

The role of chaplain might not have any bearing on the actual medical care offered by the NHS, but I firmly believe that it is an important role nonetheless.  Pastoral care is very important, and doctors and nurses themselves can only offer so much support in that area – perhaps even less these days than they used to be able to.   You might well be sitting here thinking that you wouldn’t need pastoral support in hospital, and I suspect that that’s the default position for many of us who’ve not had to suffer needing any sort of care from the NHS.  However, having known people who’ve struggled with time in hospital, and hearing what those who have worked as chaplains have to say, it can seemingly be a lot tougher when you’re actually there.  There are times when a listening ear is invaluable, and chaplains not only offer support to those dying from cancer or struggling in the middle of the night with a loss of a baby, but also to friends and family.

That’s not to say that if you do have to go through such an experience you will definitely need the support of a chaplain, but please understand that for many people such support is a vital part of the care offered by the NHS.  I have to say that I’m appalled by the selfish “I’m alright, Jack” attitude adopted by some people about this issue.

If you do believe that pastoral care is an important facet of the NHS then the Church of England, amongst other religious groups, is actually doing the NHS a favour.  Even though they may not pay for the job of chaplain itself, they do provide and pay for the basic training for clergy.  For many religious leadership roles, being good at listening and offering impartial pastoral care is part of the job – which is why they can be suited to the role of hospital chaplain.

Even if chaplains were provided purely for those of a particular religious persuasion, the argument about it not being fair to pay for other people’s “lifestyle choices” sets a dangerous precedent, as I parodied in my earlier post.  If you only want to pay for the treatment you need, then you may as well start a campaign to abolish the NHS.

The day after this issue hit the headlines, my local radio station ran a news item about a new scheme to give a grant of £190 to expectant mums – meant for “equipment, and staying fit and healthy.”   This scheme will doubtless be expensive, and ultimately will not help save lives either.   If you were that concerned about not wasting NHS money on ‘non essential care’ you should surely also be kicking up a fuss about this.   And let’s not get started on all the wastage in recent years resulting from headline grabbing gimmicks, bloated management and so on.

If you ask me, I don’t think that the National Secular Society’s motivation for complaining is a genuine concern about the NHS.  It’s just another attempt of theirs to malign religion – or, more specifically, Christianity.  I noticed that the main focus was on “the church” paying for chaplaincy posts, rather than religious groups in general. 

I’m not entirely sure why they get so riled about it, to be honest.  We live in an intelligent age, and if there is no God then they have got nothing to worry about.  Fair enough, street preachers enforcing hellfire and damnation are annoying, but remember that no-one is perfect, and don’t tarnish everyone with the same brush.  Of course, some atheists these days are also quite militant, which is a bit hypocritical.

Most of the reasons for people being sceptical and wary about Christianity stem from ignorance and misconceptions.  Ignorance and misconceptions which are only further fuelled by such NSS campaigns, ironically.



dave said…
Your comments in this post are valid and true JP. Hospitals need a role for a person such as a chaplain, as should most institutions, armed forces, police force and even private businesses BUT the role of the chaplain that you describe could be well handled (if not better performed) by someone whose religious view is not prescribed.

However, having said that, I don't support scrapping chaplains because in the past their role may have been a Christian role, today their role has evolved into far more pastoral based care (as you pointed out) and as such I see no need to scrap a tradition that has evolved to the modern world to work well.

This I believe (I would, because it's my opinion) is sensible traditionalism. Being traditional for the sake of saying the old days were better is actually quite immature (maturity is something that those who push a traditional agenda claim to have in abundance). However, keeping traditions that have evolved well to the new world should be embraced and nurtured. Touched on this in the past, 'British Christmas' etc.

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