We’ve lost something in the region of 26,000 NHS jobs over the last two years. This affects many different professional and occupational groups. Support staff of all sorts are easy to get rid of – these are the cuts that don’t cause too much media embarrassment, because NHS bosses inevitably fall back on the lame excuse, ‘There are no cuts to frontline staff’. In my own profession, speech and language therapy, most newly qualified therapists can’t get jobs at all. The same is true of most other AHP groups. Many nurses are affected. In particular, NHS bosses often have minimal understanding of the complex professional roles of community nurses, and – dressing things up as ‘skill mix’ – have pushed through appalling job and service cuts.
One of the news items I’ve seen that is particularly disturbing, though, is about the savage cuts in hospital chaplaincy. Theos, a think tank, has recently announced its research into job cuts in hospital chaplaincy. They discovered that one in four trusts has cut chaplaincy jobs.
I suspect that the situation may actually be worse. Following a family bereavement recently, I was talking to the person taking responsibility for sorting out the death certificate, belongings etc. She told me she was actually a Chaplain. In her hospital, in Bristol, Chaplains have taken on additional job roles in order to stop their jobs being axed – meaning, presumably, that the jobs of other staff have been eliminated.
I have the utmost respect for Hospital Chaplains. I used to work on a neonatal unit with very sick babies. I remember very well the careful, sensitive support that the Chaplain offered to families under stress, and to parents who had lost a cherished baby.
I’m not religious at all – I’ve been an atheist all my life. But I know from my own experience that Hospital Chaplains play an exemplary role. Getting well in hospital isn’t just about the technical brilliance of a particular surgeon. It’s also about an effective and caring environment, provided by nurses, doctors, therapists, porters, ancillary and technical and support staff of all kinds – and Chaplains. Unfortunately, chaplaincy isn’t part of any Government target, chaplaincy cuts don’t make the headlines, and the caring role of this particular group of health professionals is difficult to quantify. This leaves them even more vulnerable than many other health workers to vacancy freezes and redundancies.
Defending the NHS means defending jobs like these. Without Chaplains, the NHS would be a less caring environment, and less good for our patients.
Discussion on Theos report is at their website: Theos