Chaplaincy services have been cut in almost 40 per cent of NHS hospital trusts in England since 2009, according to new research.
Responding to the figures, a hospital chaplain leader commented: “If the hospital provides nothing for a person who has a religious faith then they’re failing that aspect of that person’s holistic care.”
According to the figures 39 per cent of acute hospital trusts – the groups that manage hospitals – have fewer chaplains in 2013 compared to 2009.
The research was carried out by BBC Local Radio using a Freedom of Information request to 163 acute hospital NHS trusts in England. Of those approached, 160 trusts responded.
The research found that 47 per cent of trusts had fewer chaplaincy hours while 25 per cent had increased hours.
Overall there had been a cut of 8.5 per cent in the number of chaplaincy hours at the trusts.
Revd Mark Burleigh, who is the president of the College of Healthcare Chaplains, said: “If that person’s illness is providing them with a religious crisis, or if the person is dying and the family is very anxious that someone should come and say prayers in line with that person’s faith, then it is part of the care offered by the hospital to ensure that that happens.
“One can’t rely on volunteers to come in in the middle of the night to provide those prayers.
“They need to be members of staff who are trained and equipped and who understand hospitals”, added Revd Burleigh, who is also lead chaplain at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.
He commented that chaplaincy services need not be “immune” to wider NHS financial savings, “as long as the understanding remains that the chaplaincy service is a valuable part of the clinical care of the patient”.
The National Secular Society, which has campaigned against the current system of NHS chaplains, said: “There must be other ways of doing this.”
“If the churches and other religious bodies think chaplains are so important really they must make some other arrangement.”