WHEN Christians who work in the NHS appear in the headlines, it
is usually because they are embroiled in controversy, often
entailing a legal dispute. A Christian GP was given an official
warning last year by the General Medical Council for discussing his
faith with a patient in an "inappropriate" way (News,
22 June 2012).
Among the 1.7 million people employed by the NHS there are
thousands of Christians whose faith informs their work. Meanwhile,
Christians and churches are seeking to reach out to those with
health problems. How are they to negotiate the boundaries
constructed to maintain the "secular space" of the NHS?
The co-ordinator of the Anglican Health Network, the Revd Paul
Holley, believes that there is a pressing need to explore this
question. He is one of the organisers of the Faith in Health and
Healing conference due to take place in Birmingham next week.
"Churches are responding to the needs around them, and
recognising that health depends on more than access to health
services," he says. "They are establishing activities that support
people with health and well-being, and [they are] increasingly
relating to health services that want to reach out to
Jim McManus, who is director of public health, Hertfordshire,
and adviser to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and
Wales, is one of the speakers at the conference. He believes that
the most significant challenge that faces Christians who are
seeking to engage in health care is one of credibility, partly
because of scandals involving child abuse. His talk will focus on
how a Christian's faith will inform his or her work in the
"It varies by situation and circumstance," he says. "Where
someone is working in the secular NHS, the challenge is to show
that we create something of value, without shoving Christ down
With reference to Matthew 7.16 ("By their fruits you will know
them"), Mr McManus argues that "the best strategy . . . is to
deliver values which the NHS recognises as being what they want:
compassion, concern for the person, holistic care. These are all
good Christian values, but all things that the NHS acknowledges
that it needs."
He believes that, despite the "boundaries constructed to
maintain the secular space" referred to in an recent Anglican
Health Network report, Faith in Health and Healing (News,
22 February), there are instances in which "the lines are already
blurred", such as the prayer clinics offered in some GP surgeries.
Part of his talk will be dedicated to discussing suitable
guidelines for such operations.
The report warned that "the denuding of compassionate, spiritual
care in favour of an increasingly secularised scientific
interventionism has been detrimental to the notion of holistic
Participants at the conference will hear from international
speakers who have reversed the tide, including the Revd Dr Kjell
Nordstokke, Professor of Theology at Diakonhjemmet University
College, Oslo, who will discuss the practice of diakonia in Church
hospitals in Norway, where each ward has a diakonal nurse who
spends 20 per cent of her time addressing the Christian values of
Another speaker at the conference is the Honorary Professor of
Practical Theology at Queens Foundation, John Hull. He has been
blind since 1980, and is the author of Touching the Rock: An
experience of blindness (republished as a "classic" by SPCK
next month). He will be discussing a "theology of plural worlds",
and will address the "long shadow of prejudice found in the Bible,
and continued in the hymn books".
He explains: "The attitudes which encourage faith in miracles,
and which link disability with sin, must be denounced. The
dominance of concepts of wholeness, perfection, and normality which
create a single world - a world from which disabled people are
excluded - must be denounced.
"If such proclamation is not carried through vigorously,
Christians will have little or nothing to say to those who think
that Christian faith is part of the problem, and not part of the
The conference will be closed by the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt
Revd James Newcome, the lead bishop for health-care issues in the
Church of England. He believes that the NHS is open to the concept
of "generic spirituality".
"One of the things we are able to emphasise," he says, "is that
we are not pushing confessional Christianity, as it were, in
hospitals, but we are concerned with what is nowadays called
generic spirituality. . . I think almost everybody recognises that
everyone has a spiritual dimension to their life . . . and we are
able to tap into that."