Hospital chaplains hit by cash crisis

02 November 2006

HOSPITAL chaplaincies are running at half their establishment levels, anhave never been under such pressure since the start of the NHS, the Revd ChriSwift, the re-elected president of the 1000-strong College of Health CarChaplains, said at their conference last week.

Lip service was paid to spiritual care, he told the meeting at Durham, butthe reality we are seeing shows a lack of financial commitment.

"We are now receiving regular reports of redundancies; non-payment oon-call fees, and the freezing of vacant posts. Just 18 months ago, the Collegconducted an extensive survey of members' views. More than 270 chaplains statetheir departmental staffing levels to be at 64 per cent of Department of Healtguidelines. With present cuts, I believe that there are now some chaplaincieoperating at about 50-per-cent staffing.

"This inevitably has an impact on the care that patients, visitors, anstaff receive."

Mr Swift went on: "It is deeply unfair to put chaplains in this positionThey often have mortgages and living costs associated with their families, anit is unreasonable to single out chaplains from other staff and expect a 'freeservice. Chaplains aren't the only ones in the NHS who are there because of vocation - and, like the dedicated doctors and nurses they work among, theneed a living wage.

"It seems astonishing that, when the Government will soon have trebled NHfunding since 1997, such a patient-focused service should be under threat."

Chaplaincy was the epitome of patient choice, "and often models excellenmultifaith working at a time when social cohesion is such an issue."

Mr Swift is head of chaplaincy at the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust. Hpraised another chaplain-manager who had refused to sign pro-forma redundancletters for some part-time chaplains, because "the language of servicimprovement in which the letters were couched bore no relation to reality."

The personnel department at the hospital concerned had changed the languagof the letter, but refused to stop the cuts.

Chaplains were doing theology in challenging and uncertain times, and thChurch should take courage when they put their convictions into practice at aorganisational level, he said.

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