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The Bishop of Stepney Adrian Newman on the vital role hospital chaplains play and the risk the service faces

PUBLISHED: 09:37 18 July 2013 | UPDATED: 09:37 18 July 2013

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If you find yourself in an east London hospital, you are less and less likely to benefit from the extraordinary services of a hospital chaplain. Without anyone being asked, or the general public being made aware of it, posts are being cut and services curtailed.

As NHS Trusts search high and low for ways to cut costs, hospital chaplains are finding their posts under threat. The savings are miniscule; the costs, in terms of a far worse service for patients and staff alike, represent extremely false economies.

Since the formation of the Barts Health NHS Trust in April 2012, the already small team of chaplains has been further cut. The Trust, now the largest in western Europe, is committed to providing spiritual and religious care to its patients but that care is now spread increasingly thin.

Chaplaincy is a vital service, massively appreciated by staff and patients, delivered at a ridiculously low cost and supplemented by an amazing volunteer workforce recruited, trained, accredited and supervised by the chaplains.

The advocates of reduced spending on healthcare chaplaincy wheel out two simple arguments: The NHS says that hospital budgets are being squeezed, so chaplaincy must take its share of pain along with everyone else; and secularists say the UK is becoming less ‘religious’ and it’s a nonsense for the taxpayer to fund hospital chaplains.

But the NHS has employed chaplains to give spiritual care and support to patients and staff since it was formed in 1948. It’s the NHS (not the religious institutions) that has seen this as a vital part of clinical care – and if you talk to senior practitioners, nothing has changed.

It’s impossible to put a value on having someone there at the most acute times of personal struggle or loss – the death of your child, your father’s diagnosis for cancer, your sister’s heart operation.

In a place like east London, faith is a profoundly important part of human and cultural identity; in order to interpret this effectively at moments of crisis you need people who can ‘speak the language’ and give voice to it in a way that speaks to the very heart of human identity.

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