At the end of last year I convened a meeting of our hospital chaplains throughout the London region. I was joined by the Bishop of Southwark and the Bishop of Barking as we discussed some of the implications of the changes happening as a result of the Health and Social Care Bill 2011. We are already seeing the amalgamations of many acute Trusts in London, leading to loss of jobs and great uncertainty among staff.
In the Diocese of London NHS Trusts employ about 30 Church of England clergy to work as full-time chaplains and many more part-time, providing spiritual and pastoral care to patients, relatives and staff. From the foundation of the NHS, the provision of religious and spiritual care was seen as an integral part of the overall care that could be expected by any patient within NHS.
At our meeting we heard reports from both lay and ordained Christians involved in this ministry. It was an extraordinarily positive experience, hearing stories of faithful service to Christ within our largest public institution. Our healthcare chaplains are offering important pastoral care not just to Christians but to people from all faith backgrounds and none. It was particularly heartening that in the midst of so much change chaplains remain buoyant and optimistic about their task of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Cutting costs has reduced, and will inevitably continue to reduce, numbers of chaplains on the ground, and there is also increasing difficulty for chaplains in the referral systems that many hospitals operate. At the admission stage there is a very low rate of completion of personal information about religious or spiritual needs. Even when this is completed it may not always be passed on to the chaplaincy teams. Some Trusts, struggling under a bureaucratic pall not unknown to the Church of England, now interpret the Data Protection Act as meaning that chaplains should not have access to a patient’s records or notes.
Because of these issues the chaplains have asked me to highlight a number of ways in which we can support chaplaincy teams, making them more effective and thereby strengthening the Christian witness to healing and wholeness in our hospitals.
- When a parishioner is going into hospital please contact the chaplaincy team with as much information about the admission as possible – chaplains’ details are listed in the Diocesan Year Book or on NHS Trust websites.
- If you visit a parishioner in hospital it is very useful for the chaplaincy team to know this, as it provides data which they can use to demonstrate the importance of spiritual care for patients. A phone call or an email would be much appreciated.
- Contact the Chaplaincy Team before you go into hospital– their details are listed in the Diocesan Year Book or on NHS Trust websites.
- On admission make sure your Christian faith is noted in the paperwork and ask for a referral to the chaplaincy team stressing its importance for you.
- During your stay make sure you feedback to nursing and medical staff how much you have appreciated chaplaincy care.
- After your stay write a letter of thanks to the Chaplaincy Team. It is difficult for chaplaincy departments to provide evidence of the often unseen and unsung ministry of love and care they provide for patients.
Those who work in the NHS
- Many in our congregations work in the NHS in various capacities. We should remember them in our prayers and we are grateful for all the ways they are able to support and encourage our chaplains and to speak up for the importance of the continued spiritual care of patients, relatives and staff.
I am glad to say that The Revd Robert Thompson, Lead Chaplain for the Royal Brompton Hospital, has agreed to take on the additional role of Co-ordinating Healthcare Chaplain in the Diocese, supporting the Area Advisers and helping to keep the Senior Staff informed of the rapid changes taking place. Please hold him and all our chaplains in your prayers and help them practically by taking note of the points above.