I was looking at a hospital chaplaincy board yesterday; all three Chaplains were Christian (two CofE and one Catholic). I have thought about this Christian weighting before but have not really considered it in any depth. Who can patients (and their families/ friends) turn to if they are not Christian? What if they are atheist/ humanist for instance? Do people feel offended or left out? What is the policy NHS on this?
I have done a little reading on this topic this morning and have found that Humanist Chaplains (which seems an oxymoron at first) are becoming more popular particularly in University settings (both Harvard University and the University of Glasgow have Humanist Chaplains). It does seem to me to be sensible and worthwhile to have an individual who can talk to and support patients who hold no particular faith. In 2006 E. Davidson was appointed as a humanist hospital chaplain in Leicestershire. A really interesting interview can be found at: http://www.humanism.org.uk/_uploads/documents/chaplaincy-for-web.pdf
The right to health is not only the right to the highest possible physical health but also mental health. Belief and well being can sometimes be strongly interlinked and it must be recognised that it is not only people with faith who need support in a hospital or care home setting, those without faith have many of the same needs. I read through the list on the wall, which is intended to give individuals an idea of instances in which they may like to talk to a chaplain. Apart from administering sacraments, all of the other instances could be addressed just as well by a atheist/humanist chaplain.
It is also important to remember that whilst human right and anti-discrimination legislation protect the right of individuals to to hold religious beliefs, it also protects the right of indidividuals to other philosophical beliefs similar to a religion and the right to have no religion or belief. I believe that those who fall into the latter two categories should not be deprived, as they currently are, of access to an individual with whom they can discuss issues as those of faith would discuss with a Chaplain.
I'm just about to read an article I have found in the Freethinker (2009) on this very topic....http://freethinker.co.uk/features/spiritual-care-on-the-nhs-chaplains-or-charlatans/