Helping Dave, Nick, Gideon et al with their cuts

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As a good patriot I want England to win the world cup, the Queen to live forever and the deficit to be tackled as quickly as possible (won’t somebody please think of the credit rating!? etc).

Regarding that later patriotic duty, I have identified a public spending cut the Government could be making. Let me refer to the fifth day of the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Lords:

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: The Government’s background note suggests that the reference to doctors is shorthand for front-line medical staff more generally. It is good that the role of nurses is specifically mentioned. Less welcome, however, is the absence of a mention of other front-line health workers, whose increasing recognition as members of multidisciplinary teams has been a notable sign of the progress made over the past decade. 

Human health and well-being, including better clinical outcomes, require a whole approach in which doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, psychologists, chaplains and social workers all play key roles. The 1996 Department of Health document, Standards for Better Health, requires healthcare organisations to co-operate with other agencies to ensure that patients’ individual requirements are taken into account and that,

    “their physical, cultural, spiritual and psychological needs and preferences”,

are met. So we await with interest discussion and clarification of what is meant by, and who is included in, “front-line workers”.

It may be worth pointing out that a chaplain often serves more patients directly each week than any other single healthcare professional working in a hospital. Although his or her role may not usually be immediately life-saving, neither is the everyday work of most doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. In any case, life-saving is not all that is meant by good-quality healthcare. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will assure us that chaplains are valued within the National Health Service as front-line staff.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): He asked me specifically about chaplains. We very much value the work done by NHS chaplains, who play an important part in providing high-quality spiritual care services to patients and staff, and we are committed to ensuring that patients and staff in the NHS have access to the spiritual care that they want, whatever faith they may have.

What’s this gibberish about chaplains being front line health care workers? It’s a miracle that the Bish was able to suggest with a straight face that chaplains made comparable health care contributions to those of “doctors, nurses…psychologists”.

Jako sez that in these belt-tightening times the NHS needs to prioritise the protection of certain resources. Preferably these should be resources of considerable utility. For example, A&E units. Or doctors. Nurses. Medicines. Things with undisputed ability to improve health.

Hospital chaplains cannot possibly be placed in that same category. In 2008 the National Secular Society that the NHS spent £40 million on providing chaplains and ‘spiritual care’. Well, time for Big Government to step out of the way and let Big Society – in the form of the organised religions – start providing the funds for this service.  

I expect that my David Laws Austerity Medal For Distinguished Cost Cutting and State Stinginess will soon be on its way in the post.

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3 Responses to “Helping Dave, Nick, Gideon et al with their cuts”

  1. Alun of the Black Beard Says:

    Actually hospital chaplains do make quite a difference for a lot of people; hospitals are not nice places to spend a long period of time in, and you can get very lonely (which is also why visiting hours are so important) and – if seriously ill – afraid. Chaplains can be a voice of calm and reassurance in a way that other hospital staff can’t (and aren’t supposed to be) and for that reason are more important than most people realise. More so than psychologists, anyway. They don’t cost much either; why there are probably some Consultant Radiologists who get paid £40 million a year!

    I could understand the argument for cutting money for chaplains if a lot went on them, of course, but as it is it’s a small amount for a fairly significant degree of humanising (for want of a better word) on the wards, I don’t really see the issue, beyond symbolism.

    Of course, there’s actually no clear division between ‘front line’ healthcare staff and everyone else in the NHS. My own experience is that a ward that is well organised at a bureaucratic level is a better place to be on in terms of care and atmosphere than one that can’t store files properly. Cuts to NHS ‘bureaucrats’ and ‘non-frontline staff’ will have a direct and negative impact on the quality of care patients recieve. The idea that we can cut budgets and maintain the same level of care that we’ve reached over the past decade is fantasy, and one that needs to be called out as such.

  2. captainjako Says:

    Perhaps chaplains do make a positive difference for some people. I’d like to see a cost-benefit analysis. NHS chaplains appear to be exempt from the rigorous training, evidence-based assessment and criticism that other NHS professionals are subject to.

    Quite apart from the principled question of whether the state should be providing for religious figures to provide spiritual healthcare (more important than just plain symbolism, I’d suggest, but that’s another matter), I demand empirical proof that the chaplains’ efforts justify their salaries.

    The NHS allocating resources – albeit small, but they all add up – towards homeopathy, ‘spiritual healing’ and chaplains needs to be questioned, especially in times of cost-cutting. At the very, very least I don’t see why chaplains should not come under review.

    I reiterate; the organised religious groups that provide these chaplains are wealthy. The state should retreat from providing this service and instead expect the C of E et al to take over the funding.

    Agree with you on the false distinction between ‘frontline’ services and everything else.

  3. All power to the quacks « Frank Owen’s Paintbrush Says:

    […] in favour of forcing us taxpayers to pay for this nonsense as part of the NHS budget. As with hospital chaplains, I spy some sensible public expenditure […]

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