The Daily Express recently ran a story headlined ‘NHS spends £25m on clergymen while hard-up hospitals have to shut wards’. Written by Victoria Fletcher, the newspaper’s health editor, the article is available online at:
It is based upon a Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent to each of England’s 226 mental health and acute hospital trusts, of which 200 replied.
Responding trusts said they spent £25,556,000 on chaplaincy services in 2009 and 2010 (I am assuming that this figure refers to a single financial year, rather than the aggregate of two calendar years).
Roughly, this equated to an average of £125,000 per trust, mostly for the salaries of clerics from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh faiths. Scaling up for non-responding trusts, the newspaper calculated an annual bill of nearly £30 million in England.
Guys and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust in London was the highest spender, with a chaplaincy budget of £434,000. In Leicester the University Hospitals NHS Trust spent £341,000 on 16 part-time chaplains.
Fletcher claims that ‘the sums being spent are up to eight per cent higher than in the previous financial year’, although it is not explained how this finding relates to an earlier (but evidently broader) survey of NHS chaplaincy published by the National Secular Society (NSS) in April 2009.
The NSS also used FoI to obtain figures on chaplaincy costs incurred by mental health and care trusts, NHS and foundation trusts and primary care trusts in England.
It likewise received a partial response, with £26,722,000 spent on the salaries of 546 full-time equivalent chaplains in England. The total for the UK was £32,014,000 which was further increased by NSS, to £40 million, by factoring in non-salary costs.
Reports from this previous NSS study are still available at:
The new data in the Daily Express will doubtless reignite the controversy about who should pay for chaplaincy services, especially at a time of pressure on the health budget – the NHS or religious bodies.
For those wishing to know more, there is a considerable literature on hospital chaplaincy, including the important recent book by Christopher Swift, Hospital Chaplaincy in the Twenty-First Century: the Crisis of Spiritual Care on the NHS (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).