Union defends vital work of hospital chaplains

Chapel, St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney

Chapel, St Joseph's Hospice, Hackney

The National Health Service chaplaincy service should not be seen as ‘a soft target’ as the financial climate becomes tighter, Unite, the largest union in the UK, said today.
Unite, which embraces the College of Health Care Chaplains (CHCC) representing 1,200 NHS chaplains, is worried that cash-strapped NHS managers are already eyeing up the chaplaincy service for further cutbacks.

Unite/CHCC is keen to emphasise that chaplains have the in-depth knowledge and experience to fulfil the spiritual needs of hundreds of thousands of NHS patients every year in a way that other NHS professionals can’t match.

Carol English, the Unite professional officer for the CHCC, said: ‘Over the last 12 months, our members have reported a continuing series of cuts which threaten the very valuable support that NHS chaplains give to the sick and the dying and their families.’

She cited the most recent examples of cuts at:

•        The Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust in London and,
•        Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust where down-grading and job losses are being imposed in the chaplaincy team.

The English, Scottish and Welsh departments of health all promote health care chaplaincy and issue guidance and requirements to health providers on the provision of the service.

But many NHS employers in these countries are choosing to withhold some pay entitlements from their chaplains or to deny them the time and funding for training and continuing professional development.

The Unite/CHCC stand has been reinforced by a Royal College of Nursing survey last month which revealed that only a small minority of nurses felt they could always meet the spiritual needs of patients.

Survey respondents cited having respect for privacy, dignity and religious and cultural beliefs as the most important spiritual needs. Spending time with patients, giving support and reassurance and showing kindness, concern and cheerfulness when giving care were also key concerns.

Carol English said: "Nurses have an important role to play in this area, but they don’t necessarily have the time when the needs of patients become more complex and time-consuming – this is where the NHS chaplaincy comes into its own."

"The Department of Health officially recognises the valuable frontline role that chaplains play. However, chaplains should not be seen as a soft target as NHS managers cast around for cuts. The cuts that have already occurred should be reversed."

President of Unite/CHCC, Revd. Mark Stobert said: "I think that it is vitally important to emphasis that chaplains have specialist knowledge and skills that enables them to respond in depth to spiritual needs."

"Their care is not only to patients, but their visitors and to ensure the well-being of staff working in the NHS.  Chaplains provide a service that no other discipline can.  Unfortunately, nurses neither have the time nor the specialist skills and knowledge.’

Source: Unite

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