Friday, 17 December 2010

Ring fencing

Despite the promises of the new government to ring fence the NHS budget it now appears inevitable that financial cuts are on the way. And not small cuts either. Although various figures are being predicted there is no doubt that we are talking in the region of billions of pounds, possibly in the region of 10% of the whole NHS budget. (1) (2) (3) (4)

In fact financial difficulties are nothing new for the NHS and Trusts have been quite imaginative in how they have managed to extract extra funds directly from the punters to help balance the books. Parking fees for example, and the rip off that is patientline.

In addition there is the use to which charitable donations are put. I remember when donations from the League of Friends and WRVS were used to buy amenities for patients. TVs, radios, hair dryers, that sort of thing, to make patients’ stay more comfortable. These days these donations are increasingly used to buy essential medical equipment, that should come out of the Trust budget. In addition whereas in the past premises for these charities were provided free of charge by hospitals, many Trusts are now charging rent, and if the charity can’t afford the rent they find themselves replaced by private sector commercial traders.

Increasingly desperate Trusts are even asking already hard pressed staff, especialy nurses, to do extra unpaid work.

Yet in spite of all this difficulty the NHS are still able to fund “pastoral services”, estimated by the National Secular Society to cost the NHS in the region of 40 million pounds a year. Even the most cashed strapped Trusts still seem to find money for these services. That 40 million would pay for a lot of extra nurses, or support staff to enable the nurse to concentrate on nursing duties.

I have no doubt that some will misconstrue this as a suggestion that pastoral services should be removed from the NHS altogether, but it is not. I am simply questioning who should be paying for it. If we are charging rent on the charities who actually give all their profits to the NHS, is it too much to ask that the religious institutions pay their own way?


  1. Well, 71% of the UK population identified themselves as Christian and I presume they're taxpayers, so I think that's ok. For a lot of elderly people, a visit from their chaplain is very often their only visitor and I was very grateful for the chaplaincy service at my local hospital that visited my mum and kept an eye on her at the times that I couldn't be there.

  2. Checking your reference it is clear that the figures you give are from 2001, nearly ten years old.
    The reference below quotes a much more recent study indicating that 63% of Brits are now non believers.

  3. The only poll that I can find giving these figures is a December 2006 ICM straw poll of 1006 people;

    Is this the one you mean?

  4. The article does not quote it's source other than ICM. The article however is dated 2010, and infers a recent poll.
    However this misses the point. I made it clear I was not advocating removal of this service for those who wanted it. The point I was making is that if essential services and staff are being cut, then pastoral services are a luxury that can not be justified at taxpayers expense.
    Was your mother visited by her own parish priest at all?

  5. Right, couple of thoughts on this.
    Firstly, what’s happening to the WRVS (which my mum was a member of) is lousy. They shouldn’t be driven out because they can’t pay rent. Neither should nurses be asked to work for nothing. Both things are mean spirited and so would making the churches pay rent and other running costs for a chaplaincy service. Three wrongs don’t make a right. Now bear with me, because I know you’re going to say that they should pay their way on this.
    The Secular Society (and you) are assuming that those who use the chaplaincy service are regular churchgoers. Therefore the churches should pay themselves for chaplaincy services. In actual fact there are a lot of people who are not regular churchgoers who use a chaplain in a hospital. They don’t contribute money to any church, but they want that service to be there when they need it. If you look at the ICM poll you’ll find that although 63% say that they’re not religious, 61% identified themselves as Christian (as opposed to 26% who said they had no faith) and 51% said that they attended church once a year or more. And that creates a problem. Basically we can’t fund the chaplaincy service on our own, because there are far more people demanding it than are paying for it. If we send a pastor up to a hospital, that means that someone else has to attend to parish duties and services. The Church of Scotland ran into trouble some years ago with its care homes. It had to close a couple of them, because although they were well utilised, the church didn’t have enough money coming in to continue to subsidise them and it was a real shame, because they were really good. I could see something similar happening with church run hospices in the future which are big drains on church funds and for many of them funding is on a 50:50 basis with the NHS.
    Finally, I think you would find the biggest objectors to free pastors would be the NHS management and the nursing unions. The NHS fund the chaplaincy service because they want to be in control of its management and ensure that lines are not being crossed and that there is a professional standard being observed. Chaplains are in close regular contact with patients and will need a high level of disclosure, for example. And the unions definitely wouldn’t have it, because if the pastors started providing services for free, the next thing would be that nurses and other staff would be expected to do it. With regard to Terry Sanderson’s figures, I think you should check them. I’ve seen three versions of the cost; £26 million, £32 million and £40 million and you should bear in mind that he’s combined staff costs with costs of heating and accommodation, so chaplains are not getting paid £47 000 a year. I’m sure nurses’ wages would look a lot bigger if you combined their wages with the cost of running the ward. As for saving money in the NHS, here are my suggestions from a while ago.
    And yes, my pastor visited my mum in hospital a couple of times because she was in his parish, but he expected the chaplain to do the heavy work of attending to my mum and other people in the hospital that weren’t from the area.

  6. Latest relevant article.