Hospital Chaplaincies

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 11:18 am,

One of the things about having this blog is that I seem to have become the go-to person when anybody is looking for Christians within the Green Party. The most recent example of this is somebody who was curious about a motion on hospital chaplains that is being submitted to the party’s Spring Conference later this month. The motion is taken straight from the National Secular Society’s position on the issue of hospital chaplains, and reads:

C31. Hospital Chaplaincy Services
Proposed by Andy Chyba (**), Anthony Young, John Evans, Owen Clarke, + 2 others
A National Secular Society survey has shown that over £30m of NHS money was spent on hospital chaplaincy services in 2009/10 in England and Wales; services with no clinical benefit. That such services are publicly funded, ahead of services such as Macmillan Cancer Support and Air Ambulances services, is indefensible.
Insert into the PSS new section HE 371 For some patients, hospital chaplaincy services offer an important source of comfort and spiritual support. NHS Health boards should facilitate a chaplaincy service. Chaplaincy funding should not come from a fixed health budget. Alternative funding streams should be used.

We will therefore:

I. Divert the expenditure being spent each year on the English and Welsh chaplaincy services into front-line health services.

II. Work with the leaders of all religious denominations in England and Wales to establish charitable trusts to fund hospital chaplaincy services.

The motion will make it Green Party policy that chaplaincy services must be privately funded, and so makes it less likely that they will be available. The last time I was an in-patient, I found the chaplaincy service an immense encouragement, even though I only saw them a couple of times. They may not have made a difference to my clinical condition, but they certainly made a difference to my overall well-being.

Sadly, I can’t afford to go to Spring Conference this year. As I can’t be there to argue and vote against the motion in person, I feel obliged to argue against it here. The motion should be voted down for the following reasons (listed in no particular order):

  • This motion makes it Green Party policy to privatise a part of our health service.
  • As a party we are opposed to the Government’s austerity agenda, where government services are stopped for purely budgetary reasons, and it is left to charities (most often religious groups) to pick up the slack. The Green approach is to work out what government should be doing in principle and then making sure we find the money to pay for it. This motion assumes the austerity principle.
  • It goes against Green Party principles. Our health policy starts by saying “Health is the condition in which individuals and communities achieve their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potential”. This motion sends the message that clinical/physical health is the only part of our health that matters.
  • The supporting evidence is misleading. The call to privatise chaplaincy services is based on one study, which said that chaplaincy services provide no clinical benefit. But they aren’t there as a clinical service. Their role is to provide pastoral support for hospital patients. It’s an important service that no other part of the NHS provides. Healthcare professionals rarely have the time to focus on the patient as a person, whilst chaplains do nothing but that.
  • It paints the Green Party as an anti-religion party. We already have some policies that come across that way (one of our equalities policies would make it illegal to require that vicar be a Christian, though that was probably not the intent of the people who wrote it). We are a party that believes human beings have a spiritual dimension. The last thing we need is policies written by an anti-religion pressure group to advance an anti-religious agenda.

If you’re a party member and going to conference, I urge you to go to the workshop on this motion and argue against it, and to speak and vote against it if you’re in the relevant plenary session (which, as it’s at the bottom of the agenda, should be on the Monday). As the motion is at the bottom of the agenda, it might be dropped due to lack of time, or by the plenary not being quorate. But we can’t assume that.