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Survey finds widespread cuts in NHS hospital chaplaincy: UPDATED

05 July 2013


CHAPLAINCY services have been cut in 40 per cent of English NHS hospitals since 2009, new research suggests.

Of the 163 NHS Trusts contacted by BBC Local Radio, 39 per cent had fewer chaplains in 2013 than in 2009. Almost half (47 per cent) had fewer chaplaincy hours, contributing to an overall 8.5-per-cent fall in the total chaplaincy hours available in hospitals.

Eight Trusts have cut chaplains by at least half. The ten at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust have been reduced to five.

One quarter of Trusts have increased chaplaincy hours. Seven have more than doubled their chaplains. Birmingham Women's NHS Foundation Trust now employs seven, compared with two in 2009.

Researchers also asked the Trusts whether chaplains who had left in the past five years had been re- placed. One third (36 per cent) said that the posts had not been filled, while 46 per cent (53 of 114) confirmed that, where the post had been filled, the occupants were on a lower pay band or working fewer hours.

A spokesperson from NHS England told the BBC: "There is no statutory requirement for hospitals to provide chaplaincy services, unlike prisons and the armed services. However, healthcare chaplaincy has been part of the services available to patients since the inception of the NHS.

"Locally, NHS Trusts are responsible for delivering religious and spiritual care in a way that meets the diverse needs of their patients. Precisely how they do this is a matter for local determination."

On Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, the Church of England's lead bishop on healthcare, said that the situation was "not entirely a bad one", as the greatest cuts had happened in a limited number of Trusts; but any additional cuts "would place a huge burden on existing chaplains, who are already very hard-pressed, and could have all sorts of unforeseen consequences for the NHS itself".

The lead chaplain at Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust, the Revd Rachel Bennett, said that the Trust was "coping well" in a time of fiscal restraint. The BBC research suggests that chaplains at the Trust have been cut from three to one, but Miss Bennett explained that five sessional chaplains were employed part-time, and their combined hours almost made up those of two full-time chaplains.

The Trust was "absolutely committed" to chaplaincy services, she said: "It's not just the role we have in caring for patients, but the re- source we offer to the wider Trust, and to staff. . . I am blessed that I am in a Trust that sees the value, and it's not unusual for doctors to stop me in the corridor and just say 'Thank you for all you are doing for my patients.'"

The president of the College of Health Care Chaplains, the Revd Mark Burleigh, told the BBC's Sunday programme: "When people come into hospital, the NHS doesn't just care for them as a physical body: it cares for them as a whole person, and chaplaincy is an important part of that holistic care, meeting spiritual and religious needs at the darkest times of people's lives."

Last year, the General Synod carried a motion that affirmed the part played by chaplains in the NHS, and called on the Government to "ensure that chaplaincy provision remains part of the core structure of a National Health Service committed to physical, mental and spiritual health" (News, 17 February 2012).

Additional reporting by Caitlin Walsh.

Bishop Newcome writes, Comment

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