Chaplaincy adds spiritual health to the NHS

As the NHS responds to the Health and Social Care Bill and the challenge of cost savings, taxpayer funded healthcare chaplaincy is coming under media scrutiny – and showing just how important it is.


Canon Chris Davies leads the Spiritual and Pastoral Care Team across the two Bristol NHS Trusts and is adamant that the chaplaincy service has an essential dual role in the NHS.

“It is often only chaplains who can provide spiritual and pastoral care in a community where there are such diverse and rich faith traditions. We seek to support all those who are ill, suffering or dying regardless of their beliefs, whatever the circumstances.”

The NHS spends £29m a year on hospital chaplaincy services but this is less than 0.03% of its overall budget. Many hospital patients experience an increased awareness of their spiritual needs in hospital and recent figures show that 17.7% of inpatients wish to practice their religion.

It is incumbent on the NHS to provide spiritual care – recognised by the World Health Organisation as a real part of healthcare – and over a million visits a year are made by England’s 500 full-time paid chaplains alone.

As Bishop Mike made clear in a speech at February’s General Synod, “Chaplains are healthcare professionals and are uniquely qualified and trained”.
In the Bristol team, there are seven full-time, three half-time and 15 honorary unpaid chaplains providing an integrated, 24/7 spiritual and pastoral care service to patients, relatives and staff within the hospital environment. Add to this over 150 volunteer visitors and a picture of the scope of this work becomes clear.

Despite the national uncertainty, the Team welcomes new opportunities to provide more “sacred spaces” in hospitals: South Bristol Community Hospital opens this year, the development of Southmead Hospital in 2014 and the new facilities at University Hospitals Bristol in 2015.

“The variety of chapels, quiet rooms and prayer rooms will be re-designated with the term ‘sanctuary’,” says Chris.

“These spaces are for all faiths and none; of refuge, of shelter, of protection; safe to use, to come and go, to bring and leave, to wait or to be.”

Chris concludes, “The years ahead for the NHS are difficult but our team will continue to seek to provide excellent spiritual and pastoral care.”

“Every effort ought to be made to resist secularist calls for chaplains to be excluded from the NHS,” was Bishop Mike’s challenge to General Synod. We can respond by supporting healthcare chaplaincy in the Diocese of Bristol.

More about Healthcare Chaplaincy in Bristol >>
Train to become a Hospital Chaplain Visitor >>
Chaplaincy continues as Bristol hospital moves >>
pdf documentRead Bishop Mike’s speech in the NHS debate at General Synod >>