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Interview: Fi MacLachlan director, Burrswood Christian Hospital

30 November 2012

'This is what we offer. We think we do it well'

I believe that God has had his eye on me throughout my life and career - weaving different experiences, training, and opportunities together to shape me for this next challenge. My social-work history, my links within medical establishments, my church-leadership roles, my management training, my work in the Christian and voluntary sectors . . . they've all played a part in shaping me.

I bring my passion to see Christian organisations work well, my strategic "where are we going and how are we going to get there?" thinking, my strong belief that the gospel is for the whole person, and my ability to speak the languages of both the Church and the non-church world.

Burrswood Hospital is in a strong position to influence both these worlds: to demonstrate the holistic approach to health care, and to heighten awareness of the part that the spiritual plays in what can become a physically dominated environment. It can link the professionalism offered by Burrswood to medics who may write off the Church as not having a role to play. And there are many other ways in which increased dialogue can bring benefits to both worlds, and ultimately, of course, to patients.

I was considering a job within the "Christian bubble" before coming here. But I felt that, actually, my background lends itself to working at the interface between the Church and non-Church [organisations]. I did an MBA primarily to help me think how the voluntary sector and Christian organisations can work more effectively. Some people are very good practitioners but not good managers. Organisations are beasts that need development and oversight.

The health environment is tremendously complex now. There are changes in commissioning; many changes within services; people not knowing if they will have a job; cuts; challenges. . . Everyone's looking for alternative ways of doing things, so I'm more than happy to take up the mantle I've been left here, to explore working with partners, be they churches, charities, or the NHS.

I'm a psychiatric social worker by training, but this is not registered as a psychiatric hospital, and we have no plans to be so. But we do have people with psychological challenges, and because we're passionately committed to working with the whole person, not just a leg or a hip replacement that comes in, we do seek to give psychological as well as spiritual support.

There are a number of disabilities and diagnoses which may have a strong psychological component. So we have a strong counselling team who work with in-patients and out-patients, and we offer packages of support where that's appropriate - for instance, if there's a lot of anxiety.

We've made a new partnership with St Luke's, which has now closed its hospital in London. Their financial support can give clergy access to a hospital environment where they can recuperate from surgery, which is conducive to their needs, with Christian support, away from parishioners, perhaps.

We're also negotiating regarding setting up telephone counselling for clergy across the country, and looking at how else we might provide them with support. Our Christian staff are objective and professional, but they also understand where clergy are coming from, which helps immeasurably.

I was raised in a Christian family, for which I become increasingly thankful the older I get. My parents were not perfect, but modelled grace and commitment, forgiveness, and a Christ-centred life, which taught me a lot.

I am married to Mark, and we live in Sussex. Moving to Burrswood after my London commute, I find I've gained twelve-and-a-half hours of life to live each week.

I always wanted to be a nurse as a small child, but then realised I didn't like blood. So I transferred my caring aptitudes to social work. But underlying all this was my commitment to follow Jesus, which has determined the steps I have taken.

I would like to make Christ's love known amid the needs of people outside of the Church - in other words, to be good news.

The more I work with people, the more I want to escape from people in my holiday time. So, although I lived in the inner-city for 20 years and loved it, I also was grateful that I could afford to escape, and had friends I could escape to, in more remote places. I love the west coast of Scotland, the Lakes - in fact, pretty much any place with water and hills.

I think of the story of Jesus and the ears of corn, and remember that the Lord is Lord of the Sabbath. When I prepared to come to Burrswood, I went on retreat, and was walking through a cornfield when this came to me, remembering Jesus with the disciples, and how they were criticised.

In the same way, the Lord is the Lord of the NHS. It is not overlooked by God, and while some of the values and systems may creak, or be different, there are many goals of both which remain the same.

We sometimes have a fear of engagement with the world, and sometimes view other institutions outside the Church as the enemy - something to be feared. But God is above all these things, and there are individuals in the NHS who love God and seek to serve him there, which is fantastic.

The NHS has said that they will pay for certain things, but not for our psychological or spiritual services. Naturally, they want to buy what they perceive as a standard physical rehabilitation programme. In other hospitals, chaplaincy is often regarded as "icing on the cake" and not part of the business plan. Because Burrswood is a charity, we can pay for that chaplaincy provision. We believe it is fundamental to holistic care for people.

We respect people of all faiths and none at Burrswood. We had a Jehovah's Witness the other day who didn't want chaplaincy visits. We're not pushing Christ down people's throats. NHS partners obviously ask questions about this, but we have an Equality and Diversity policy, and we seek to abide by that. At the core of it is respecting each individual's wishes. We trust that colleagues in the NHS understand that, if a patient chooses to access spiritual care here, it's their choice.

We have to be unashamed of the Church, to say: "This is what we offer. We think we do it well." I've got a letter from two NHS managers who came to visit us last week: "Many thanks for your time on Monday. We were extremely impressed by the facilities you have to offer. We hope to work together in the coming months."

Part of Dorothy Kerin's vision [Burrswood's founder] was to provide "healing for the sick, comfort for the sorrowing, faith for the faithless". Working in partnership in the NHS is not incompatible with that vision. Burrswood need not compromise its foundations and source of strength, but neither should it fear partnership - to work to- gether with people of goodwill who seek to serve those most in need. Christians do not have a monopoly on care.

I love to relax with friends, walking, eating together, with a glass of wine. One of my mottos is from The Message translation of Romans 12: "Be good friends who love deeply."

Looking at water, swimming or diving in water, sailing on water - it's all great. I think maybe I should have been a dolphin. I haven't been in it today but I do swim regularly, early in the morning.

Lock me in a church, please, with some of my close friends.

Fi MacLachlan was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
www.burrswood.org.uk

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