Thursday 22 March 2012

Religious comfort at my expense

"As the NHS looks to find at least £20bn of savings between now and 2015, could the provision of chaplains be one area where the service could save money? Edward Presswood, a doctor of acute medicine based in North London, and Rev Debbie Hodge, chief officer of Multi Faith Group for Healthcare Chaplaincy, debate whether there is a place for spirituality on hospital wards."
This was a brief discussion on BBC Radio Four's Today Programme this morning, and though four and a half minutes isn't enough to explore the issues in detail, it proved sufficient to reveal the underlying concerns of both sides. Edward Presswood made the point that a religious chaplain could not cater for the "spiritual needs" of someone who was of a different or no religion, though he stated he wasn't against hospital chaplains on principle — only their being funded by the National Health Service.

Debbie Hodge offered a similar argument to that used by the Lords Spiritual when attempting to justify seats in the House of Lords for Anglican bishops: that "religious" care isn't the forefront of the care they provide, but their religiosity gives them unique expertise. This ties in with the suggestion that clerics have some special spiritual power that only they have access to, perhaps because they have a hotline to the Almighty. Unjustified assumptions like this lead to taxpayers funding hospital chaplains to the tune of £29 million per year. Edward Presswood ably skewered the assumption with his football-fan analogy.

Listen to the discussion here (fast forward to 2h45m — available for a week):

Given more time, I'd like to have heard the Rev Hodge explain precisely what she means by "spiritual care" as it seems this is a term bandied about with little idea of what it's actually supposed to be.