The lunacy of NHS ‘spiritual care’

The lunacy of NHS ‘spiritual care’

This feature is based on a talk to I delivered to the Brighton and Hove Humanist Society on January 7, 2009.

The genesis of this article began on August 7, 2008, when I received an email from Richard Harlow, chaplain at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath. He said:

We are currently consulting on the Spirituality Strategy for the mental health Trust that includes Brighton and Hove, and would be pleased for a response from the Humanist Society.

I read through the strategy – a 13-page draft – and was at first unsure of how to respond. On the one hand, some of its definitions of spirituality were certainly broad enough to include humanists. For example, “[spirituality pertains to] the essence of human beings as unique individuals: the power, energy and hopefulness in a person”. On the other hand, to take part in such consultations can be futile and even counter-productive. Humanist views will rarely prevail against the religious majority, which, having got its own way can exploit your presence by claiming to be inclusive and saying, “Well, we did consult you!”

But as I carried on reading, I became more and more disturbed by what I’d read, and just had to say something. The draft I received mentioned Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, Paganism, Jehovah’s Witness, and even Scientology. But not, of course, atheism, agnosticism or humanism. Right through the document ran the self-serving and unsubstantiated assumption that all religions deserve respect.

I began my response by challenging that Humanists respect the rights of others to believe what they will, but draw a firm distinction between respecting a person’s right to hold a belief, and respecting the belief itself. The world’s religions are mutually contradictory. It therefore follows that all religions, or all but one of them, have to be wrong. Why then, should they deserve our respect?

After a little research, I found a job description for an NHS hospital chaplain on the Internet, which contains the following passage:

10. MOST CHALLENGING/DIFFICULT PARTS OF THE JOB – To distinguish in the experiences people share between what is genuinely spiritual and what is delusional or hallucinatory.


A patient who feels he has been “saved” by accepting Jesus as his personal saviour is, if we are being honest, deluded from an atheist’s or a Muslim’s perspective, and sane from a Christian one. How does the Trust intend to resolve such serious contradictions – or does it intend to ignore them in the name of well-meaning but muddle-headed multicultural political correctness? If the Trust takes the reasonable view that false beliefs should not be propagated or legitimised by state-funded chaplains, it has two options:

• Fund no chaplains at all
•  Identify the “one true faith” (good luck!), and fund only its associated chaplains

How might the Trust achieve the second of these objectives?

Well, I was relieved to hear that, according to the Strategy, “We will support research in the area of spirituality, with the same rigour as in other disciplines” (p.11). Drugs that fail to pass clinical trials are rightly rejected by the NHS as a waste of money; if the Trust is being honest and consistent, it ought to apply the same rule to hospital chaplains. When scientists like Richard Dawkins rip into religion or “alternative” medicine, they are often seen as being too critical. But once you understand how critical scientific enquiry is, you’ll appreciate that Dawkins isn’t being some kind of killjoy – he’s only being consistent. He’s only asking for a level playing field – that spiritual remedies should be subject to the same standard of testing as conventional treatments.

Scientists don’t do clinical trials for the fun of it, and these trials don’t come cheap. Scientists do it because such critical testing can be crucial in weeding out false explanations. Does the NHS seriously intend to test the efficacy of chaplains “with the same rigour” as a pharmaceutical drug? Just imagine the trials! Some chaplains would dispense advice that genuinely reflects what their religion actually teaches, and others would have to give a kind of “dummy” religious advice as a placebo!

Of course, such rigorous trials will never be carried out – and the Trust should not try to pretend otherwise.

A recent large-scale scientific study into the effects of intercessory prayer in patients of heart bypass surgery found that:

Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications. 

In other words, prayer was not associated with a difference when patients didn’t know they were being prayed for, and may have actually hampered a person’s recovery if they did! Perhaps the fact that people knew they were being prayed for caused them to dwell on the gravity of their condition, and made things worse rather than better.

Has it occurred to the Trust that, religious or not, sick patients in a hospital ward may regard chaplains in much the same way as a sick animal regards vultures – as unwelcome harbingers of death? The draft claims (p.1) that religion is “an essential part of many people’s self definition”, and proposes to “Make spirituality a central aspect of the care we provide” (p.6). Yet as the draft strategy acknowledges, the West Sussex audit of 2005 revealed that only a minority of people said they would like to talk to a chaplain or faith leader.

I’m not saying that religion is all bad. Religion provides a genuine sense of community and support for some people, and given that, I would not be surprised to find that visits from religious colleagues or leaders could speed a person’s recovery. But by exactly the same logic, people who are passionate stamp collectors would likely benefit from visits by fellow enthusiasts.

I’m all for trying to make everyone, religious or not, as comfortable as possible in hospitals. But the idea that religious communities should be privileged above secular ones must be challenged. Again it comes down to consistency – to a rejection of double standards. Let’s not have one rule for them, and one rule for us.

The draft cited a report which:

Recognised that spirituality is central to the recovery approach.

The term “Recovery Approach” sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? After all, you want people in a hospital to recover, don’t you? But the report they cite, called “A Common Purpose: Recovery in future mental health services”, defines recovery in a subjective way:

The current concept of recovery… has moved from professional definitions towards self-definition, such that the concept and experience of personal recovery is not limited by the presence or absence of symptoms, and disabilities, nor the ongoing use of services.

So basically, you can “recover” and still be disabled and dependent on services. “Recovery” was defined not in terms of living a full and purposeful life, but in terms of “[a] recovery of hope and ambition for living full and purposeful lives”.

Again we read that “Personal recovery can occur in the context of continuing symptoms or disabilities”. The authors even distinguished their type of “recovery” from that which was “the focus of evidence-based practice and treatment”! In other words, the Recovery Approach is not necessarily concerned with whether people recover, but with whether they feel more positive. To be fair, the Recovery Approach wasn’t invented by scheming clerics as a means to sneak religion into hospitals. It originated in the States as a means of treating substance abuse, and can be mostly or entirely secular in its application.

If patient’s condition can’t be cured, it’s perfectly reasonable to enable patients to identify and achieve realistic and rewarding life goals within their condition, although “Condition Management” would be a more honest label that “Recovery Approach”. One problem with the Recovery Approach is its slide away from professional objective standards towards subjective self-definition – a problem that can only be compounded if the NHS facilitates a role for religion. In a 2004 survey of mental health professionals, 39 percent thought that religion could protect people from mental ill health – and a larger number, 45 percent felt that religion could lead to mental ill health.

The draft speaks of:

[Moving] our organisation from a bio-psycho-social model of care to a holistic model that recognises people with mental health problems as whole persons with interrelated psychological, social, physical and spiritual needs (p.6).

This sounds awfully like moving from a scientific model that works to religious mumbo-jumbo that doesn’t.  And, sure enough, page 1 of the final draft openly acknowledges that spirituality is about:

Going beyond the scientifically verifiable, and entering the realm of belief or faith” (p.1).

In other words, it’s about believing in things for which there is no good evidence. So much for the Trust’s empty promise to apply “the same rigour as in other disciplines”!

The danger of a faith-based approach to the treatment of mental illnesses is encapsulated in the words of Friedrich Nietzsche:

A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.

The Trust stressed the need for hospital prayer rooms. Given the horror stories we hear about patients left for ages in hospital corridors, I’m sure that the hospitals could put the space to better use. And there’s also the cost – £4,159 in the case of the “sacred space” at Mill View Hospital. Although a multi-faith prayer room sounds inclusive in principle, it can lead to conflicts, as evidenced by headlines such as:

No legal action will be taken against a hospital porter quizzed by police after a row over a crucifix being covered up in a prayer room.

Hospital porter Joseph Protano, 54, was quizzed by police after a row over a crucifix being covered up in a prayer room at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in Pendlebury. He was dismissed for gross misconduct, then lost an appeal. Police then interviewed him for four hours on suspicion of religiously aggravated assault, but he was released without charge.

Hospital porter Joseph Protano, 54, was quizzed by police after a row over a crucifix being covered up in a prayer room at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital in Pendlebury.
He was dismissed for gross misconduct, then lost an appeal. Police then interviewed him for four hours on suspicion of religiously aggravated assault, but he was released without charge.

If prayer actually worked, of course, religious people would be out of hospital in a jiffy. Is this what the Trust actually observes? Terms such as “prayer room” or “sacred space” employ religious terminology. If we are to have such rooms at all, a more inclusive secular label would be “Quiet Room”. Different patients in a hospital have mutually incompatible spiritual beliefs. Either a chaplain will be required to minister to those whose spiritual beliefs conflict with his own (in which case my earlier tongue-in-cheek remark about dispensing “dummy religious advice” might not be far off the mark after all!), or the make-up of the chaplaincy must reflect the make-up of the local community. Hospital chaplaincies, it seems, are a muddled mixture of both.

Consider the job description to which I earlier referred. It states that the chaplain will be sincerely committed to a particular faith community – indeed, ideally they will be an ordained member:

13. KNOWLEDGE, TRAINING AND EXPERIENCE REQUIRED TO DO THE JOB: The Chaplain will have a live faith commitment and spiritual practice and be in good standing with her/his faith community.

Ordination is an advantage. But the chaplain must also fit the following criterion:

6. KEY RESULT AREAS – GENERAL: To be open to accept people as they are, and work with their theological and philosophical understandings of life, especially when hers/his differ from theirs.

So they must passionately hold one belief, and be especially open to people who hold beliefs that contradict it?

So (for example) a Christian chaplain who sincerely believes than an unbeliever will be eternally damned should not intervene in order to try and save that patient’s soul? I don’t doubt the kindness of many hospital chaplains, but with the best will in the world you could not regard their profession as being intellectually honest. Can we respect such dishonesty in a chaplain? Can a state respect the mentally ill by funding chaplains that lie to them? The website of the Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy states:

Modern chaplaincy works ecumenically and is inter-faith orientated, its prevailing culture and philosophy is predominantly humanistic.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “ecumenical” as

Belonging to or representing the whole (Christian) world.

Although humanism can mean “pertaining to human interests”, most humanists use it in the sense of the following Oxford English Dictionary definition:

Any system of thought or action which is concerned with merely human interests (as distinguished from divine).

So there we have it. A chaplain’s work belongs to the whole Christian world, yet is supposedly inter-faith orientated and distinguishes itself from divine interests! A more absurd job description is difficult to imagine. If, by “hospital chaplain”, you simply mean “Someone in hospitals who goes around being nice to people of all religions and none, lending a sympathetic ear”, I have no objection to such people. They’re called nurses. They are in short supply, play a professional role far beyond mere bedside manner, and would doubtless be of more benefit to patients than chaplains.

The Trust’s strategy begins with a definition of the word “spiritual” that is broad enough to apply to just about everyone, including those who have no religion. Perhaps tellingly though, by the time the actual number of chaplains gets discussed, the goalposts appear to have been moved, and people with no religious beliefs have been excluded:

Chaplaincy staff should be fairly employed and represent the religious diversity of the local population (p.5).

The word “religious” must be replaced here, if the Trust is serious about being representative. But what should it be replaced with? The term “spiritual” is problematic, because it is so ill-defined.

As the draft itself acknowledges, spirituality “has no single, clear philosophy” (p.1). Better, then, to omit worlds like “religious” or spiritual”, and simply seek to represent “the diversity of the local population”. Some of the draft’s definitions of the word “spiritual” are compatible with a scientific worldview. “The essence of human beings as unique individuals” (p.1), for example, can be expressed in solely natural terms, as a person’s unique set of psychological traits.

But once again, the Trust moves the goalposts:

[The Trust’s strategy] seeks to move our organisation from a bio-psycho-social model of care to a holistic model that recognises people with mental health problems as whole persons with interrelated psychological, social, physical and spiritual needs (p.6).

Note that the term “spiritual” has now become something other than psychological. A fundamental characteristic of the scientific method is methodological naturalism – only natural forces are used to explain things. Once you take a scientific model (that is, physical, biological, psychological or social) and add a vague unscientific element like spirituality, the entire model becomes vague and unscientific.

It’s a bit like saying:

I took 347 mg of copper sulphate crystals, and dissolved them carefully in a large-ish container of green stuff which, well, looked a bit like Fairy Liquid.

It has been estimated that about 36 percent of people in the UK are humanist in their basic outlook, yet the Trust currently funds no Humanist chaplains whatsoever.  Presumably, 50 percent of hospital patients are women, some of whom will have gender-specific health concerns. The needs of such women are unlikely to be met by most faith leaders, who are almost always men. Again, how representative is the Trust in this area at present? The draft strategy states:

The NHS has traditionally recognised 9 world faiths: Baha’i, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism”(p.1)

If the Trust is serious in its desire to be representative, it needs to consider the following: According to the 2001 UK census, those of no religion are the second largest “belief group” (for want of a better phrase) – about three times as many as all the non-Christian religions put together. Jedi Knights had 390,127 followers, and thus formed a larger group than several of the “major religions” [Sikhs (329, 358), Jews (259, 927); Buddhists (144,453)] or minor religions such as Jainism (15,132), Zoroastrianism (3,738) or the Baha’i faith (4,645).

As a representative of Brighton and Hove Humanist Society, [now Brighton Secular Humanists] I am keen to ensure that the make-up of local chaplains reflects the make-up of the local community. According to the same census, Brighton and Hove has the lowest proportion of religious people in the country – although it does have the highest proportion of Jedi Knights.

You will give the Jedi their fair share of hospital chaplains …

The strategy notes that:

This recognition and valuing of spirituality is not a licence for staff, service users or faith groups to impose their beliefs or practices on others. Any individuals or groups using coercive or manipulative means of influencing others on Trust property will be constrained from so doing. People experiencing mental illness can be at their most vulnerable.

If telling a sick person they will be cured in an afterlife and re-united with their loved ones isn’t a manipulative way of influencing people, I don’t know what is! If only such comforting ideas were well-supported by the evidence! Then I’d be all in favour of teaching them As it is however, such beliefs are at best unsupported by the evidence, and at worst flatly contradicted by it, which is why I think it wrong for the state to legitimise such beliefs.

The strategy notes that:

Practices that have derived from religious traditions (eg Yoga, Reiki and spiritual healing) are valued by some service users and carers. If such practices are to be offered in our premises they will need to be subject to the same ethical scrutiny that we would expect of any new therapy.

But religion falls at the very first ethical hurdle. It’s wrong to offer people false hope, and most or all religions are false. The Trust’s aims of being “Positive about mental health”, and “Challenging stigma and discrimination” (p.3) are certainly shared by humanists. The religious however, have traditionally stigmatised disabled people, regarding disability as punishment for the immorality committed in a former life, or a punishment from God. The Old Testament states:

Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? (Exodus 4:11).

The New Testament states that epilepsy and blindness are caused by demons. This is not the kind of nonsense that the State should be legitimising in our hospitals. Neither is the Roman Catholic stance that jabs for cervical cancer should only be permitted if girls aren’t told about artificial contraception. As the draft strategy acknowledges, religions practiced in Sussex include the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that yoga is the work of demons. Historically, they maintained (in the face of all scientific evidence) that:

Vaccination never prevented anything and never will, and is the most barbarous practice … abolish the devilish practice of vaccinations.

When the Witnesses did change their stance, it was in response not to some new commandment from on high, or scientific evidence, but to the fear of being sued:

The matter of vaccination is one for the individual that has to face it to decide for himself …. And our Society cannot afford to be drawn into the affair legally or take the responsibility for the way the case turns out.

The Trust seeks to identify “Spiritual Champions” (members of staff who are more interested and “attuned” to spirituality than others). Given the numerous doctrinal flip-flops that Jehovah’s Witnesses have undergone regarding which blood products are allowed and which aren’t, perhaps the Witnesses could benefit from the Champions to which the draft refers? On reflection, given the Witnesses’ track record in medical matters, the Trust may not like to work with them. And given that the Witnesses regard hospitals which perform blood transfusions as “bloodguilty organisations”, they many not fancy working with the Trust, either.

I recognise that religious beliefs are very important to a minority of people, and I have nothing against religious representatives coming into the hospital and ministering to such people – provided, that is, that they do not proselytise to anyone else. What I am against, though, is the use of state money to subsidise any such ministry.

Atheists are constantly being told by religious people that a religious person’s faith inspires them to do good works. Why, then, do they expect the State to pay them for ministering to sick members of their own flock? Is it right to demand (for example) that Muslim and atheist taxpayers foot the bill for a chaplaincy that will doubtless contain a disproportionately high number of Christians? According to the website of the Diocese of London, there are 400 full time equivalent hospital chaplains in the UK. And according to the Worcester Acute Health Care Trust, each chaplain costs £50,000 to maintain. If those figures are accurate, chaplains cost the NHS some £20 million a year!

The number of deaths involving the bacterium Clostridium difficile in England and Wales rose by 28 percent between 2006 and 2007. Rationalists are also realists, and realise that the hard-pressed NHS will never be perfect. But they also know that the millions of pounds spent by the NHS on chaplains every year could and should be better spent.

I favoured a secular solution to the question of chaplains. Don’t give us any money for humanist chaplains, and don’t give the religious people any money for religious chaplains either. Perhaps as a result of this, Richard Harlow, the person who had first contacted me about the consultation, never contacted me again. I’ve now seen the final draft of the consultation. It’s pretty similar to the earlier one, but now makes references to the need to provide “religious services” (p.5) in addition to religious prayer rooms.

The consultation states:

If recovery is about one thing, it is about the recovery of hope … p.5.

No it isn’t! IT’S ABOUT ACTUALLY GETTING BETTER! The consultation cites the words a satisfied patient (sorry, “Service user”) whose twisted logic sums up perfectly why spiritual healthcare is a recipe for disaster (p.3):

I now thank God for my illness as I am in a position to share my coping mechanisms with so many others.


Half-Time Post Of Community Mental Health Chaplain

Benson et al. (2006) Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in cardiac bypass patients: A multicenter randomized trial of uncertainty and certainty of receiving intercessory prayer. American Heart Journal, Vol. 151, Issue 4

Care Services Improvement Partnership, Royal College of Psychiatrists, Social care institute for excellence (2007), A Common Purpose: Recovery in future mental health services.(PDF)

Swinton, J. and S. Pattison, 2001, Come all ye faithful. Health Service Journal, v. 111, p. 24-25.

Gerin Oil, by Richard Dawkins.  First published in Free Inquiry 24(1), p.9-11, 2004.

South Downs Health NHS Trust Charitable Funds Report For The Financial Year Ending 31st March, 2006 (PDF)

Crucifix row man’s relief Manchester Evening News April 11 2008.

Multi-Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy

Ecumenical. The Oxford English Dictionary

Humanism.  The Oxford English Dictionary

17 million British Humanists

Communities and Local Government: Third Sector Strategy – Response from the British Humanist Association (PDF).

Church drops its objections to girls’ cancer jabs – but at a cost

YOGA Just an Exercise or Something More?

The Golden Age [Jehovah’s Witness periodical], 1921 October 12, Page 17.  The Watchtower, 1952, Dec. 15, Page 764. Blood.The Watchtower, June 15, 1978, p. 25: “Avoid bloodguilt from (1) eating blood [blood transfusions], (2) sharing in bloodguilty organizations…”

New Religious Movements

Hospital Chaplains

Unholy row as chaplains get the boot

C. Diff. deaths ‘continue to rise’

30 responses to “The lunacy of NHS ‘spiritual care’”

  1. Har Davids says:

    I’m not even remotely spiritual, so I never know what make of this stuff. Too often, the work that has been done by doctors and nurses, if the patients recovers, is considered proof of god’s existense and his awsomenes. If the patients dies, his ways are mysterious indeed.

    If you’re really religious/spiritual you should just try to pray the ilness away, and not waste other people’s money by receiving medical care, which should be restricted to unbelievers like myself and most of the readers of this blog.

  2. Angela_K says:

    Hars Davids, I have no problem with religious adults eschewing medical care but sadly, as has been reported on this blog, children who are unfortunate in having religious parents suffer and die because prayer doesn’t work. Children and adults also suffer because of hysteria from the anti-vaccination brigade, many of whom are religious.

    Also, we still have the NHS funding other quackery in the form of homeopathy, proven not to work any better than a placebo.

  3. “[spirituality pertains to] the essence of human beings as unique individuals: the power, energy and hopefulness in a person”. Some use that definition to hide their religious intentions and hopefully to get the law of the land to endorse spirituality legally. This definition is describing self-confidence not spirituality.

    Any meaningful definition of spirituality will involve the belief that there is a higher power who pours supernatural strength into you. It is a religious concept and must be struck out of the law.

  4. Matthew Roberts says:

    I think Chaplancy services should be provided on the NHS, not because I believe the services they provide are real , but because I believe the NHS should do everything it can to make people better and relieve any suffering or stress. If it relieves a little bit of the stress of a dying or very sick Christian, Muslim or any other religious belief to hear that their maker loves them and that they would soon be in parodise. then they are as chaplains fulfilling what I see should be a core aim of the NHS. I see it similar to providing toys and story books for sick children, or items of comfort for the elderly.

  5. andym says:

    MR, In which case, why should the NHS fund it? If clerics are so concerned with giving comfort to the dying, and saving souls, why are they unwilling to do it off their own, well-funded bat? No one is stopping them.

  6. Matthew Roberts says:

    Andy? If it is helping to provide comfort and relieve stress of those staff and patients who believe in the existence of God(s) why shouldn’t the NHS fund it? it seems to me that it is doing what the NHS should be doing, helping to relieve suffering.

  7. andym says:

    You haven’t answered my question. I wonder why.

  8. Matthew Roberts says:

    I did answer your question Andy,

  9. Barry Duke says:

    As the article points out, prayer is useless; it falls on non-existent ears and the presence of a chaplain can actually be stressful for many patients.

    We’ve had more on this subject here:


  10. Broga says:

    @andym: Clergy themselves feel like spare parts in hospitals. Patients want to see nurses and doctors. The clergy know they are outside the loop, they lack the knowledge that counts and they are desperate for a role. The hospital social workers, who used to be called almoners, do the social work and making arrangements outside the hospital. And they have training. What is left for the clergy?

    Also, as religion fades the number of patients who want this mystical (superstitious) service fades with it.

  11. Matthew Roberts says:

    I am not saying that prayer in itself is going to have a medical benefit, and any chaplain that says this needs to be fired and banned from working in an NHS hospital. However a Chaplain I believe is valuable in listening to a religious persons wishes, and providing what comfort they can to those that make use of the chaplains services then so make it be. Just because we don’t take comfort in the services of a religious minister doesn’t mean that others will not either. I see it akin to providing children with Toys in a hospital, books or television to adults, Whatever the NHS can do to minimise stress in an obviously difficult time, needs to be done.

  12. Broga says:

    Money spent on clergy is not available to be spent of equipment, nurses, doctors, cooks, cleaners etc. What about atheists and agnostics. Should the NHS supply people to counsel them? If not, why not?

  13. Matthew Roberts says:

    Yes, they should supply people to counsel them, and the chaplain should equally cater to those of non belief as those with belief.

  14. Stephen Mynett says:

    A lot of books, TVs etc are provided by charities, not paid for from NHS funds. If priests, vicars, imams etc want to look after their people they should do it from their own parish and meet the costs, chapliancy is a luxury and non-medical item the NHS cannot afford.

    Andy, if you say chaplains should be provided for a religious person to talk to, where do you draw the line, do you pay any crackpot philosopher a patient may like to speak to, perhaps a representative of the flying spaghetti monster, perhaps the patient is a football fan and would benifit from talking to a footballer.

    You are being typically selfish of the religious in thinking that because it is religion it is a special case that deserves priviledge. It does not, the churches are wealthy enough, as I said above pastoral care should be provided by the patient’s own church, not the NHS.

    I have spent a lifetime in and out of hospitals and I know that chaplains, despite what they are supposed not to do, still throw their weight around and annoy people who want nothing to do with them. However, those I have seen who visit from a patient’s church are usually much more civilised and visit only the person they came to see, that is fine, hospital chaplains are not.

  15. Broga says:

    @MR@ I wonder how a chaplain, believing what atheists regard as toxic nonsense, could “cater for these patients.” Discussions on the virgin birth, miracles, the resurrection, the detestation of the adherents of one religion for those of another would probably lead to blows.

    If the chaplain were typical he would provide explanations by using the bible, the inerrant word of his God, as the ultimate authority. However, quoting the bible has to be highly selective. Otherwise we are confronted with its brutalities, its God who demands endless flattery, a God who slaughters prodigiously,its contradictions, its historical inaccuracies, its absurdities e.g. 1,900,000 creatures collected in the Ark including polar bears, koalas, panthers and all the insects.

    It isn’t going to work unless the patient is prepared to accept passivively what is so obviously incredible. Any other ideas MR?

    The outcome of such a discussion is an atheist armed with facts and reason still an atheist and the chaplain becoming an atheist himself/herself.

  16. Angela_K says:

    @Mathew Roberts. Hospitals are places where science is used to heal he sick. Quackery, such as that peddled by religious soothsayers, should have no place there but if a religious patient should want a chaplain of their cult then the patient/cult should pay for the privilege.

  17. Matthew Roberts says:


    I would rather the person engaging in the chaplaincy was religiously secular and would not let any religious beliefs they hold influence how they treated the people they were paid to serve. Any chaplain that prosteyalises or treats people differently on grounds of belief, or lack of- should be fired. Like what would be the case in any other job.


    A hospitals job is to minimise suffering and make people feel better What harm does it do to a dying person, to have someone humour their beliefs. They are hardly going to change them through rational debate and logic because they are dying.

  18. Angela_K says:

    @Matthew Roberts. Read my post again, I conceded that if a religious patient wants a chaplain their religion should pay, the funds must not come out of the NHS budget.

  19. Matthew Roberts says:

    @ Angela_k

    I did read your post, and I replied to it. ” A hospitals job is to minimise suffering” if a religious minister does that for someone then a hospital should pay for it.

  20. Matt Westwood says:

    “if a religious minister does that for someone then a hospital should pay for it.”

    No they should NOT.

  21. Matthew Roberts says:

    @ Matt Westwood should the same apply for certain medicines too because the associations with them is controversial?

  22. Barry Duke says:

    Some years ago I wound up in A&E waiting to be treated for a broken finger (I fell down a flight of stairs.) While I was waiting, an elderly woman in wheelchair was parked next to me. She was in considerable distress, and said to me: “Do yourself a favour and die before you get into my state!”.

    When I asked why she was so upset, she said she has just been cornered by a hospital chaplain, who told her to “look on the bright side” and that “Jesus loves you”.

    “It’s bad enough that I am in pain and dying, so why should I have to be tormented by vermin like that,” she sobbed bitterly.

    I agreed wholly with her, and held her hand until she was wheeled away by a nurse.

  23. Matthew Roberts says:

    @ Barry Duke. I would say in those circumstances the Chaplain wasn’t doing their job. Certainly the chaplain should only visit those who request it , not prostetalyse and in effect act as a counceillor who has the added affect of a religious placebo attached. This is why they should be directly employed by the hospital and not a religious institution (A hospital therefore has more control over what the chaplain says) We have the unfortunate situation in many publically funded schools in this country where because a religious institution/trust has contributed to the school financially, they think they can dictate content and the religious staff who are funded by the trust/religion are exempt the models of behaviour and neutrality expected upon teaching staff.

  24. Barry Duke says:

    MR: The very essence of Christianity (and Christians make up the majority of chaplains in hospitals, schools, prisons, the Army and other institutions) IS to proselytise. Otherwise they’d be as much use as tits on a bull.

    Are you seriously suggesting that the NHS, stretched to breaking point financially, should not only employ chaplains, but also meet the cost of a chaplaincy “police squad” to make sure they don’t do what their religion obligates them to do?

    The answer is no religious chaplains ANYWHERE funded by taxpayers.

  25. Stephen Mynett says:

    As I have already stated, chaplains approach and talk to whoever they please, being employed by the NHS does not stop them from proselytising. The chances of stopping them are also quite slim as most hospital administrators are not going to risk a long and potentially costly lawsuit when these theists start claiming unfair dismissal or that they have been persecuted because of their belief.

    I also pointed out that those who specifically visit a patient from their parish rarely cause problems by trying to interact with other patients. That is fact, so it rather negates your argument MR.

    It is the job of the hospital to provide medical, not spiritual, treatment, pastoral care is the job of religions and they should pay for it, they are all wealthy enough, unlike the NHS.

  26. Matthew Roberts says:

    @ Barry @ Stephen, If they do not perform their job in the terms of the contract that they have agreed to undertake then they should be sacked. a Chaplain should be sacked. There is no law that protect prostetalyising in the work place.

    It is a job of a hospital to try and make people feel better. Doctors have been prescribing gym memberships for depression for years and if paying one person in a hospital with hundreds of patients gives comfort to the 10-20 patients a day that want to use their services who am I to argue.

    @ Barry Duke “Are you seriously suggesting that the NHS, stretched to breaking point financially, should not only employ chaplains, but also meet the cost of a chaplaincy “police squad” to make sure they don’t do what their religion obligates them to do?”

    Whoa where did I mention police squad? Most Hospitals and indeed most employers have line managers responcible for seeing staff do their jobs You made a big jump from what I said to talking about police squads, A Hospital would not be able to dismiss a person employed by a church whereas they can dismiss their own chaplains. Furthermore given religious institutions rather lax attitudes towards safeguarding it would be highly dangerous to have church employees working with vulnerable adults and children.

    @ “Stephen Mynett I also pointed out that those who specifically visit a patient from their parish rarely cause problems by trying to interact with other patients. That is fact, so it rather negates your argument MR.”

    Is it really a fact Stephen, perhaps you can find me some peer reviewed evidence to back that “fact” up It sounds like an anecdote to me

  27. Stephen Mynett says:

    MR, my facts come from years of hospital admissions and from what I and my peers have witnessed. No I cannot find a peer reviewed paper on this. However, it is blindlingly obvious to those who have spent a lot of time in hospitals. Call me a liar if you want but I know what I have witnessed.

    I suggest that, like many theists, you are too selfish to give up yet another bit of priviledge despite the fact the church is in a far better position financially to pay for this service.

    It is no good just saying they should be sacked for not performing their job properly, as I have stated it is easier said than done. The likes of the Christian Legal Centre are always glad to cause needless trouble for hospitals and that is something that has to be considered when trying to sack them. Employment laws have been changed a lot but sacking is still not a straightforward thing, especially when you are dealing with people who will do anything to hang on to their job, even if they know they are guilty. As Barry said, it is the job of many Christians to proselytise and they think they have a right to do it, they are not going to stop just because it upsets people.

  28. Broga says:

    @Barry Duke: I broke my finger at the knuckle a month ago and off I went to hospital. They had a system where they had got some money together to train up a nurse who specialised until she was, to put it crudely, somewhere between a nurse and a consultant. She did all the preliminary work, looked at the X-Ray which she explained to me, bound up the finger and advised me not to splint it as it needed some movement. She was brilliant.

    The consultant two weeks later had a look and confirmed everything was going well. I mentioned the excellent care of his colleague. Here’s the clincher. He said, “I just wish we could have more money to do more of this.” Question: Would money be better spent on hospital chaplains or these kind of initiatives?

  29. Stephen Mynett says:

    Broga, the National Secular Society looked into hospital chaplains a couple of years ago and it was noted that a chaplain will often earn twice as much as a nurse.

    That is the selfishness of the likes of MR, to expect the NHS to pay twice as much for someone who is only of use to a very small per centage of patients, rather than pay two people who are of use to everyone. It is also worth noting that some drugs are denied to patients on cost grounds.