Taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of 'spiritual care' in hospitals

Taxpayers should not shoulder the cost of 'spiritual care' in hospitals April 8, 2009

HOSPITALS could be reduced to mere workshops where you get your biological parts fixed if the National Secular Society were to run the NHS.

Those are the words of a Catholic priest, father Paul Mason, who, on the BBC Today Programme this morning, opposed a suggestion by the NSS that hospital chaplains should be funded by religious groups, and not by taxpayers.

A hospital chaplain delivering as dose of mumbo-jumbo to an ailing patient
A hospital chaplain delivering a dose of mumbo-jumbo to an ailing patient
The clip can be heard here.
The NSS’s opposition to state-funded hospital chaplains follows a move by an all-party group of MPs to make hospital chaplains “a commissioned service” on the same basis as medical staff.
Responding to a consultation being conducted for the parliamentary chaplaincy group by Conservative shadow Health Secretary Mike Penning, the NSS has criticised the use of Health Service money to fund these services and has recommended that the religious groups should fund them from their own pockets.
The NSS says that around £40-million a year is being spent on “spiritual care” on the NHS – and that even organ players in hospital chapels are on NHS payroll. It insists that the money would be better spent on “much needed” nurses or cleaners.
The Society said it contacted 233 acute and mental health trusts which spent a total of £26.72m on chaplains, at an average of £48,953 each.
According to the BBC, the society extrapolated these figures for the whole of the UK to produce a national average of £32m.
But the NSS said this took into account only the salaries of the chaplains, and excluded national insurance contributions, pension payments, administration costs, office accommodation, training, and the upkeep of chapels and prayer rooms.
NSS president Terry Sanderson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the £40m figure was equivalent to employing 1,300 nurses or 2,645 cleaners.

I think if people were given the choice they would choose the latter [nurses or cleaners] because frontline services are under pressure, they are going to be increasingly so as the recession bites, and it’s important that savings are made wherever they can be.

But Father Paul Mason, a Roman Catholic hospital chaplain in London, said there was a call from patients for chaplaincy services.

We are all busy, there is a demand, we’re not there because we’re trying to find something to do, we are there because there is demand on the ground for chaplains to be present.

And a Department of Health spokesman 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.

The spokesman added:

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.

A Church of England spokesman said:

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.

But the NNS says these services are part of churches’ own “fundamental responsibility”, and as such should be paid for out of their own pockets.
Said Sanderson:

Most people who go into a hospital come from the local area and it would be better if their own vicar, priest, rabbi or imam came to see them if they felt in need of religious support. This could be done as part of the clergypersons’ regular duties – it should not fall as a burden on the NHS.

Sanderson, who has worked in hospitals for most of his forty-year working life, said in a report published by the NSS that he had never once been asked by a patient for the services of a chaplain.

Religion is not generally important to people in this country. A Home Office survey showed that it was ranked ninth in a list of characteristics that people thought important to their identity. I am sure that they would prefer the money that is spent on chaplaincies to be redirected to the fundamental purpose of the hospital – the provision of medical services and aftercare.

NOTE: Earlier this year the Freethinker published an investigation into the subject entitled Spiritual Care on the NSS – Chaplains or Charlatans.

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  • LD

    A Department of Health spokesman 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.”
    Calling all atheists reading this in hospital, please notify your hospital that you are a devil worshipper and that require the services of the hospital chaplain several times a day.

  • TG

    I listened to this this morning and the priest came up with weak reasons, relying as usual on an assumption of entitlement, something the numbers of current UK religionists no longer justifies. As regards this continual disingenuity of saying they’ll support all faiths, maybe he’d be happy interfaithly offering a few wiccan spells or giving a quick astrology forecast, perhaps a tarot reading. I’ve heard that the entrails of chickens used to be considered quite informative. Mockery aside, we have got to starve these organisations of not just public money but just as importantly, of their access to our public services and governmental organisations. When they’ve been out of those arenas for a while they’ll lose that assumption of entitlement.

  • Wurble

    I played a very small part in helping to collect some of the figures for this report and I cant begin to tell you how much pleasure it gives me to read and listen to the squirming of the godphuqt. Priceless!

  • Angela K

    Most religious organisations – especially the church of England and the catholic church – have loads of cash and assets so could easily pay for chaplains; can’t keep their snouts out of the taxpayers’ trough can they? And let’s not forget the space wasted on prayer rooms; just think how many extra beds would fit.

  • A similar amount of taxpayer cash is spent on prison “Chaplains” Religious folk in prison? Surely not?
    It’s a fucking scandal!

  • A similar amount of taxpayer cash is spent on prison “Chaplains” Religious folk in prison? Surely not?
    It’s a fucking scandal!

  • William Harwood

    “Are your children playing with Lucifer’s testicles?” For a true (?) explanation of Easter eggs, go to

  • Aye – religious crap is paid for by the prison service too from our taxes – which is pretty vile – especially all the expensive nonsense like supplying halal food etc. for the islamic inmates. surely they aren’t “proper” muslims for them to be criminals?? Just like terrorists who explode themselves aren’t “proper” muslims. And as religious people make up FAR more inmates than atheists per capita of population, its proof it don’t work!!
    While in the maternity ward with the missus a couple of weeks back, an old codger in a dog collar came up and asked if we wanted a chat. Apparently every wednesday the local priest comes into the women’s hospital and wanders round chatting. That is fine by me if people want to talk to someone who by his very definition knows FA about parenting or birth!
    And as he was just the local priest – I doubt it was a fiscal burden.
    The prayer room and chapel at the place though…. hmmmm. what a waste of good closet or bed space!

  • Broga

    What should have been added by that Priest is that “And you will have to fund this through your taxes regardless of whether you are atheist, agnostic or anything else. As for the NHS: if the priests are doing such a wonderful job why did it take six months, under the Freedom of Information legislation to extract the facts on the money.
    How much is spent on army chaplains: rank of Major usually, I think.

  • Stonyground

    I am delighted that this subject is now being covered by the mainstream media, without the NSS I would have been unaware that this was going on. The churches have no defence, if they think that this work is so important then fine, let the churches fund it themselves. There is simply no way that they can justify sucking money away from genuine health care and I can’t see that they will get away with it for much longer now that the general public know about it.

  • hen

    especially all the expensive nonsense like supplying halal food etc. for the islamic inmates

    Halal pisses me off. Its pretty barbaric and should, under any sane animal welfare system, be outlawed.

  • Indeed hen – as is kosher – inhumane treatment of humanity thru ancient myths is one thing, but keep animals out of their perverse fantasies. They don’t deserve it!

  • Stonyground

    The Halal and Kosher problem could easily be solved by providing a vegetarian menu. It could have the added advantage of smoking out some who decide that actually they are not that religious after all.

  • What an excellent idea Stonyground, so bloody good in fact, that the powers that be will never think of it.

  • What an excellent idea Stonyground, so bloody good in fact, that the powers that be will never think of it.

  • Stuart H.

    I represent ‘minority & no faiths’ on a hospital ethics committee along with ‘proper’ hospital chaplains. I have a 100% attendance record, but of 4 listed chaplains, 3 take it in turn, t’other (the evangelical) never attends – we suspect because we’re not paid! This has its advantages, like being able to push non-religious ethical stances as hospital policy. In my experience hospital staff also value having a confirmed atheist/humanist to counter the religious lunatics they’re obliged to consult.
    My advice is – especially if you’re in a more rural area without ‘professional’ chaplains – find who your local hospital chaplains are, point out that, for example, older atheists in hospital lack suitable ‘faith support’ and that you’d visit if needed. Reasonable ones will co-operate, and once you’re known to the hospital other more formal stuff can follow.
    I also took advice from churches on setting up hospital visiting for atheist patients. From this I know 90% of what’s passed off as ‘chaplaincy’ is actually done by retired churchgoers who ‘support’ their vicar – who usually only turns up to give last rites, set up funerals and comfort the bereaved. I’d also confirm patients hardly ever ask for a chaplain -it’s usually a relative who can’t get to the hospital.

  • ‘Chaplains do an extremely demanding job’
    Are you kidding me? Kindly souls as they might well be – and I daresay it is difficult talking to the terminally ill and their kin – does a professional bedside-natterer contribute to the surgery, medicating, diagnosing, disinfecting, responsibility for patient’s paperwork, etc. The ones who do that are the backbone of a hospital that I suggest the above phrase is better reserved for.

  • remigius

    I have thought long and hard about this issue, and have come to the conclusion that a hospital chaplain is a bit like a Slinky.
    They both serve no practical purpose, but it would be fun to watch them fall down a flight of stairs!

  • I really am getting tired of hospitals tinkering with my biological parts. It’s like, isn’t there something else you can do?

  • sailor1031

    In fact it is the pastoral DUTY of parish priests to visit sick members of their congregations in hospital, at home or wherever they may be. As such they are already being paid for this and providing paid chaplains merely lets the parish priests off the hook while unnecessarily providing a duplicate service at taxpayer expense.

  • sas001

    Let’s not forget the legacy forms (typical form can be downloaded from CofE website). They prey on the lonely old people to fill them in. Vicars and priests not only use hospitals to get these forms filled in – they also target old people’s homes.

  • Andrea Farnsworth

    I have been disgusted at some of the comments. Having been part of the NHS for more years than I care to remember, I know the importance of having hospital Chaplains. They play a vital part in hospital life not only for patients but for visitors and staff also. I work throughout the UK in NHS hospitals and have seen first hand the vital work they do [for very little pay I might add]. Prayer rooms of all denominations being used on a regular basis, we need to support all people no matter what faith or culture they come from, who better to do this but a hospital Chaplain.