O God our help in hospital beds …

O God our help in hospital beds …

So there you are in hospital, sick and with many reasons to feel anxious and distressed. All your usual comforts and supports are gone, you have too much time to ruminate and feel miserable.

How to deal with your troubled mental state and pressing concerns? How to retain your positive sense of identity and find distraction from an uncomfortable situation?

Of course! The answer is someone to talk to who has good psychological skills and human understanding, who will clarify issues, help you manage distress and facilitate coping with the consequences of illness. Yes, it’s a professional counsellor.

But what do you get? In my local hospital your personal support will be a chaplain trained in theology and church practice. We have five of them at a cost of well over £100,000. Also, just to broaden the insult, they are all Protestant (though they might call in another priest if you ask).

You protest. The smug answer from them and management is that the priests are happy to talk to anyone. So much for your need for someone with relevant professional skills, your objection in principle to the imposed religious context.

Here then is an easy practical suggestion to all irreligious (and all counsellors) in hospital. Ask to see an appropriate non-faith representative (there’ll be a BHA group within reach – or it could be a suitably credible acquaintance who has to be officially asked).  Don’t be put off, these are your spiritual needs.

And all not currently suffering should Google up their likely hospital and find out what personal support is offered. If it is inadequate or religious, write in and complain. Use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what the chaplaincy costs.  Then urge others to grumble, try a letter to the local newspaper.

Is it that priests have a lingering hope of justifying their vocation by death-bed conversions – real or fraudulent – driven by the urgent threat of Hell? Patients with faith needs who don’t have a local contact should be able to send for a priest without cost to the health service.

Atheists and secularists and the great majority of everyone else would welcome the departure of chaplains and their replacement by better. Perhaps a century or two ago the vicar was the only possibility, but now such peculiar provision is a residue of church privilege. It is an easy target that should be swept away entirely.

7 responses to “O God our help in hospital beds …”

  1. Dianne Leonard says:

    When I was in the hospital for surgery in 2000, I told the receptionist I was a “none.” (What could I do? My Catholic mom was standing right there!) But when I went in for a second surgery in 2011, I told the receptionist I was an atheist. And the first time was a county hospital, the second a Catholic hospital. The real difference was that, in the first, I got no end of visits from chaplains, the second I got NO visits. So, be honest if you can when checking in–saying you are an atheist may discourage the chaplains from coming in and hassling you.Granted I base that on only 2 times, at 2 different hospitals, but NOT telling you are an atheist will open the door to these idiots trying to “convert” you. (I also think my mom’s influence might have had an effect. She was a chaplain herself, and knew all the Catholic chaplains in the county. So I’m sure she visited them and told them to visit me. I finally had to call the nurse and ask that they be barred from my room–which did, belatedly, work. My second surgery was in a different county and sadly my mom had died a couple of years before.)

  2. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    Hospitals should not be subsidising religious posts. Just think how many nurses/junior doctors that money could pay for, a much better use of stretched resources.

  3. Angela_K says:

    It is obscene that money destined for medical services is diverted to fund religious proselytisers and soothsayers. If patients feel they need a priest or other snake-oil salesmen, they should pay for it, the same way they have to pay for extras such as TV. Incredibly, some hospitals provide other types of quackery such as homeopathy and reiki, all from the health service budget.

    A few years ago during a short hospital stay, I was asked by a nurse if I wanted the Chaplain to visit my bed, the nurse’s face was a picture when I said I had enough to deal with without exposure to god disease.

  4. Cali Ron says:

    Angela K: I liked, “…exposure to god disease”. I’m going to have to borrow that one from you . There ought to be a vaccine for that. Oh wait, there is: education not based on superstition.

  5. Edwin Salter says:

    Thanks for the comments. Can now add that the Secular Medical Forum has had a go at this issue but without progress.
    I think what’s necessary is a lot of individual complaining to hospital staff and authorities (arguments both anti-religiosity and pro-expertise). It would be interesting to hear of actions and responses.

  6. Stephen Mynett says:

    I like to ask to have the Bible removed from my hospital locker, pointing out that it is easy to clean and disinfect a locker but a book is not easily cleaned and represents a contamination risk. The reaction is usually hostile but cannot be refused, especially with the problems there have been in the UK with MRSA and other bugs.
    Things have improved in my lifetime, during all of my admissions up until about the 1980s I was logged as CofE, despite telling the staff I was an atheist who had never been christened or baptised. There was no space on the admissions form for atheist so they used to put CofE as a compromise and never seemed to understand why it annoyed me so much. At least now they recognise my atheism.
    I still find some chaplains bother patients despite being told they are not wanted and the reaction of the ward management varies a lot and we need to keep protesting.