Costing the Heavens

The National Secular Society (NSS) claimed on Monday that its study of expenditure on hospital chaplaincy by NHS provider trusts in England had demonstrated that the service yields no clinical benefit.

The NSS press release and accompanying 12-page report, written by Robert Christian (a member of both the NSS and the British Humanist Association) and entitled Costing the Heavens, can be downloaded from:

By means of an enquiry under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act, the NSS asked all 227 English NHS provider trusts (both acute/specialist and mental health) in August and September 2010 how much they had spent on chaplaincy services in the financial year 2009/10. There was a 100% response. Ambulance trusts and primary care trusts were out of scope (since they do not generally provide inpatient services).

The NSS then compared the percentage of each trust’s total income spent on chaplaincy services with the trust’s performance on the Care Quality Commission’s Standards for Better Health and the Standardised Mortality Ratio (the latter applicable to acute trusts only).

These measures represent the appropriate national quality benchmarks of health outcomes for 2009/10, although, as NSS acknowledges, they have been criticized as methodologically limited.

Total direct (pay and non-pay) expenditure on chaplaincy services was £29 million. Where like-for-like comparisons were possible, this was an average (inflation-beating) 7% above the figure obtained by the NSS in a comparable study published in April 2009, which remains available at:

However, ‘statistical analysis showed that there was no relationship or positive correlation between how much hospitals spent on chaplaincy services and the overall quality of their patient care.’ These findings are visualized in graphs 2-4 of the report.

There were wide variations in the proportions that similar hospitals spent on chaplaincy (graph 1), and the NSS calculated (tables 1-2) that, if all NHS trusts brought their spending into line with the best-performing trusts, annual savings of £18.6 million would be made. This sum, according to NSS, would pay for 1,000 nursing assistants or a brand new community hospital every year.

Commenting on the results, Keith Porteous Wood (NSS Executive Director) said: ‘The National Secular Society is not seeking to oust chaplains from hospitals, but their cost should not be borne by public funds, especially when clinical services for patients are being cut.’

‘We have proposed that chaplaincy services should be paid for through charitable trusts, supported by churches and their parishioners. If churches really support “the big society” then they will stop siphoning off NHS cash to fund chaplains’ salaries.’

It is unclear how this NSS survey relates (if at all) to another recent study, also based on data obtained under FoI, reported in the Daily Express which produced an estimated expenditure of £30 million on hospital chaplaincy in England in 2009/10. See our coverage at:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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