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?