Man does not live by bread alone
The National Secular Society have chosen their moment: hard on the heels of the cuts in services which the NHS will inevitably, and regrettably, have to make the Society have renewed their attack on hospital chaplaincy. Quoting a recent study, they point out that £29 million was expended on chaplaincy between 2009 and 2010. In a sentence, which has no apparent logical sense to me, they claim ‘statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of patient care’. Citing national quality ratings, they suggest that £18.5 could be saved if all Trusts provided chaplaincy at the same rate as the most highly rated Trusts. In a Radio 5 Live ‘phone in (phone ins, as we all know, are very accurate measures of public opinion and, of course, do not attract the fevered, misguided or just plain ignorant minority), listeners were asked if they would prefer to have doctors or chaplains if jobs were to be cut. Well, of course they are going to say doctors, but the National Secular Society chose to use this straw poll to affirm that ‘the public are on our side’. I would just like to ask: ‘what is at stake for the Secular Society here?’ Are they altruistically concerned about the quality of NHS care and value for money, or are they just using this opportunity to pursue their secularising and atheist agenda? I think that ‘public opinion’ would be on my side when I say that it might be the latter.
Many years ago, I was involved in fighting for the survival of a desperately needed school on a large city council estate: the estate was deprived and poor, and served a great purpose locally. In a desperate attempt to cut costs and appear financially sound, the Governors elected to cut all peripatetic music lessons: music lessons which the students could not afford ordinarily. I argued, successfully as it transpired, that ‘man does not live by bread alone’ and that education was not just about equipping children with the three Rs to be effective in the job market but it was also, just as importantly, about feeding the spirit and souls of the children and giving them an appreciation of the inspirational things in life like music, art and theatre, those things which make life worth living and give it depth and meaning. The same principle applies, I would suggest, in health care: yes, we need the doctors, nurses and auxiliary staff to care for our bodies and ensure that we are physically whole: with these interventions you can quantify and produce statistics to demonstrate their efficacy, but how do you produce statistics about the terminally ill patient at whose bedside the chaplain sat for a whole night comforting the dying and the grieving family? Who exactly is it that will answer those ‘life’ questions when illness suddenly afflicts a normally healthy teenager? Who will mark the significance of a still-born baby’s life, except the chaplain in baptism? Who will effectively challenge a hospital institution which begins to put finance and staying within budget before patient care, except the chaplain who is in but deliberately not of the establishment? Who will support those members of the great international faith communities like Muslims and Seikhs, for whom faith is not a dualistically held belief put in a Sunday box or brought out in times of need, but an indispensable and inalienable part of who they are? As in so many things in this nation, take out the contribution of the faith communities from hospitals and you would rip out the soul: that element which makes the hospital a caring, compassionate human body rather than a clinical service station for flesh and blood. Unfortunately, you can’t quantify this contribution statistically but you can be sure its there because most of us have experienced and witnessed it. Woe betide the nation, or institution within it, that runs its affairs and its life solely on what can be statistically supported and financially justified. Such a society would be one without art and poetry, music and comedy, philosophy or ethics, love and laughter, awe and wonder. It would be a society without a soul and the price is to high not to pay
~ by Tim Ellis on March 8, 2011.
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