Bishop Paul sees hospital chaplains at work

St James’s University Hospital has one of the biggest hospital chaplaincy teams in the country, and Bishop Paul has spent an afternoon finding out about their work.

The Revd Chris Swift, who is Head of Chaplaincy for the Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, says, “The chaplaincy service aims to ensure that patients who require spiritual care receive appropriate attention. It includes the ritual and sacramental requirements of those who belong to a faith, but our work also goes beyond that, because everyone has hopes and fears and therefore pastoral and spiritual needs of some kind. People come from all over the region, sometimes on their own, and when there’s a lot of waiting around and a lot of time to think, many value having someone to talk to.”

Bishop Paul says, “Being in hospital can raise all sorts of questions and anxieties for people, so the chaplains and volunteers offer a crucial service of pastoral and spiritual care. It’s particularly important when people’s families are too far away to visit.”

The team has 7.5 full-time chaplains (including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and a humanist) and they are helped by around 50 volunteers. Their work can range from conducting baptisms and funerals to visiting patients on the wards or supporting parents while their child is undergoing an operation.

Volunteer Greta Newman says, “We wear t shirts that say ‘Can I help you?’ on the back, so we get asked all sorts of questions. But I find people of different faiths will ask me to pray with them; they are very glad just to have someone willing to spend that time with them.”

Chris adds, “The chaplains are also there for hospital staff. They may have ethical concerns arising from their work or need support during harrowing episodes of care. They also often feel the deaths of patients keenly; in fact, nurses have sometimes been called disenfranchised mourners, that is, they may have been with a patient in the last weeks of their life, but don’t go to the funeral. So the support of staff  is an important part of what we do.”

The chaplaincy service is looking for more volunteers. If you think you can help, please contact The Revd Chris Swift - chris.swift [at] nhs.net

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