Here's an interesting new development - the Secular Medical Forum (SMF)- set up recently to put forward secular perspectives on current health debates. I was interested in their page on hospital chaplains and the millions of pounds which is taken away from frontline services to subsidise church activities. The Church of England alone has assets worth something approaching 5 billion pounds, if they think chaplaincy is worthwhile they should be funding it from their own considerable wealth, transferring money away from local health services to a capital rich vested interest like the churches whose services are not delivered on the basis of need, but on belief - is highly immoral. Here's the SMF take on this issue:
"In England, in 2007, there are 850 full-time and part-time hospital chaplains. According to the Tablet (a liberal Roman Catholic weekly) of 17 February 2007, the College of Health Care Chaplains believes that "chaplains' wages amount to 0.05 per cent of (NHS) hospital trusts' budgets". This sum is in the region of £18 million annually. Think of how many nurses, and other essential NHS staff, could be financed by this amount?
The major religious bodies in the UK are some of the richest organizations in the country. Cannot they pay for their own personnel to visit those patients who want some religious support when they are in hospital? Surely patients, who want religious care, would prefer to see the familiar faces of their local vicars, priests, rabbis or imams rather than "chaplains" personally unknown to them? Or, if such patients are in hospitals far away from their own communities, surely the nearest church, mosque or synagogue could send someone to see them?
The Secular Medical Forum believes that a majority of NHS patients today want taxpayers' money to be spent on medical services rather than on prayers. Each full-time hospital chaplain removed from a Trust budget would finance at least two nurses."