Hospital chaplains play an “important” role in the NHS, and the Government values their work, a Conservative Peer has said.
Speaking in the House of Lords, Earl Howe, who is the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, said the Government is committed to giving patients and staff in the NHS access to “spiritual care”.
Chaplains came under fierce attack from secularists last year who launched a campaign to remove their funding.
Earl Howe, responding to a comment from the Bishop of Chichester on NHS chaplains, said the Government values their work.
He said the chaplains “play an important part in providing high-quality spiritual care services to patients and staff, and we are committed to ensuring that patients and staff in the NHS have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith they may have”.
The Bishop of Chichester, the Rt Revd John Hind, had earlier pointed out that “a chaplain often serves more patients directly each week than any other single healthcare professional working in a hospital”.
Bishop Hind added: “Although his or her role may not usually be immediately life-saving, neither is the everyday work of most doctors, nurses and allied health professionals.
“In any case, life-saving is not all that is meant by good-quality healthcare.
“I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will assure us that chaplains are valued within the National Health Service as front-line staff.”
The National Secular Society (NSS) commented: “Chaplains, ‘spiritual supporters’ or whatever other name they care to invent for themselves to conceal and inflate their true purpose – must be made to pay their own way.”
Last year the NSS said patients should be denied access to publicly-funded chaplains in NHS hospitals.
The group claimed that £40 million is spent meeting the spiritual needs of patients.
Duty of care
Last year the Department of Health said it was “committed to the principle of ensuring that NHS patients have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith or belief system they follow”.
“Chaplains do an extremely demanding job, often in difficult circumstances, and their skill and dedication is highly valued by patients, relatives and staff within the health service”.
And a Church of England spokesman commented: “Spiritual healthcare has long been acknowledged, by both medical practitioners and the churches, to be an intrinsic part of caring for people in hospital.
“NHS Trusts pay for chaplaincies because they see them as part of their duty of care to patients, not because the churches force them to.”