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Archbishop Calls for Secure Future for Hospital Chaplaincies

Friday 6th October 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has given his strong support to the work of hospital chaplains and has stressed the need for a commitment to securing effective chaplaincy services across the National Health Service at a time of job cutbacks and financial restraint.

In a recent meeting with Health Minister, Lord Warner, Dr Williams spoke of his concern about reports of disproportionate cuts in chaplaincy services in some parts of the NHS. Whilst recognising the financial constraints on the NHS and the need to ensure that all areas - including chaplaincy - bear their fair share of any cutbacks, Dr Williams stressed that chaplaincy should neither be considered a 'soft target', nor bear a disproportionate burden of staff reductions.

Dr Williams' concern had been prompted by the situation in Worcestershire, where the local Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is pressing ahead with a 70% cut in hospital chaplaincy posts, despite strong opposition from some local community groups, the Bishop of Worcester and the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. Reports received from chaplaincy teams in other parts of England suggest that potentially harmful cutbacks are also underway elsewhere, and highlight a widespread worry that the Worcestershire example might set a precedent for future staff cuts.

Dr Williams also stressed the importance of recognising that chaplains were not just 'part-time vicars, visiting their sick parishioners', but that in the right circumstances, they were also confidantes of the hospital executive and NHS Trust.

Lord Warner confirmed to Dr Williams that whilst it was the responsibility of individual Trusts to set and follow their own staffing policies, the guidance issued by the Department of Health in November 2003 relating to chaplaincy services remained very much in place. He confirmed that he would be contacting the local Strategic Health Authority to remind them of this and to ensure that the Archbishop's concerns were known.

Dr Williams has subsequently written to all Anglican chaplains in order to assure them of his continuing support and blessing for their vital work in ministering to patients, relatives, staff and institutions. In his letter, Dr Williams told the chaplains that he will continue to press the case for secure chaplaincy provision across the NHS:

"I will be consulting with colleagues and other Church and Faith leaders to see how best we can continue to press the importance of religious and spiritual care within the NHS, upon the Government and upon local NHS Trusts."

The meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Warner, Minister of State for NHS Reform, took place at Lambeth Palace on 18 September, 2006.

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