Revd Simon Betteridge, Lead Chaplain & Bereavement Services Manager, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust
Revd Ian Howells, Lead Chaplain, West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, Bury St Edmunds
Revd Canon Jeremy Pemberton, Chaplain, United Lincolnshire NHS Trust
How can churches navigate the debate about the nature and purpose of spiritual care and religious care?
What are the implications for understanding the inter relationship between service dialogue, mission and evangelism?
Official guidelines on meeting the spiritual needs of patients date from 2003 and are pretty vague – Scotland has clearer guidelines. Provision of a chaplain is guidance – it is not statutory as it is in the Army. The inspection regime should assess the quality of spiritual and religious care – how can we help them to do this? E.g. we must demonstrate sensitivity – liturgy will not meet the needs of dementia patients, but some old, well remembered hymns will do.
There was a good debate about the need for church to better understand chaplain’s roles and provide practical and emotional support. There was a clear consensus that this was patchy and could generally be significantly improved. Harriett Mowatt was mentioned as a useful writer on this subject. Churches often just see hospital chaplaincy as a type of “social work” and do not appreciate the work we do – often being the only spiritual contact point in people’s lives. E.g. one panel member reported on 50% of patients in a mental hospital at the Easter service – the vast majority would not go to a church service.
A key area would be encouraging (and equipping) more volunteers. Their roles vary. Another would be linking to the broader move away from cure to prevention. E.g. a group in Scotland – Good Morning Fife ring recently discharged patients every morning to check on their progress. There is a need for more community chaplains working with GP surgeries.
The group would like more support for end of life training for clergy and others.
Patients can access spiritual care in lots of ways and it will vary from place to place and ward to ward – often this depends on how open other staff are to involving the chaplains. Generally Hospitals are not good at assessing spiritual needs.
A Doctor expressed concern that patients can really benefit from chaplain support and then get discharged from hospital with no opportunity for local follow up. This seems to vary again across the country – with Lincolnshire reporting no follow up and Coventry reporting on a good link with local services. Generally churches poorly prepared to provide support to former mental patients.
A US Chaplain reported how chaplains across the States had lobbied for change in national legislation and set up a helpful code of conduct.
There was also a debate about cuts – are chaplains a peripheral service and therefore very vulnerable? There are currently 500 chaplains providing 24/7 care across England and the service is stretched. One panel member said “This is the very last time you lose chaplains – because of the cuts – we provide a broader service needed in these resource stretched times.” The team were keen to stress that they are focused on seeing God at the centre of every ward. They need to find new ways to work with the commissioning groups, local faith groups, communities and to provide a more rounded service to meet the changing needs of the NHS.