Gair Rhydd and spiritual care

16 Feb

In response to this article in the Cardiff Student Newspaper this week, I think its author Rhys Howell has ignored the wealth of evidence suggesting that good care of patients’ spiritual needs is not only helpful but necessary. The NHS recommends that the spiritual needs of its patients need to be met as part of a holistic approach to medicine. Whether or not you believe that God hears and answers prayers in a miraculous way, several reports have found a link between faith and faster recovery times or more satisfactory outcomes .

One London doctor I spoke to reported that in 25 years of general practice, he has asked many patients if they would like him to pray for them, and his question has never been met with offence. Sure, some people declined the offer but many accepted and later were grateful for the manner in which they had been treated. Peter Saunders, general secretary of the UK Christian Medical Fellowship said that “Suspension simply for inquiring about the appropriateness of prayer is not only an act of religious discrimination but will undermine the proper provision of spiritual care in the NHS”. Last week the Daily Telegraph printed a letter (3 Feb) by GP Trevor Stammers in which he asked whether the GMC would now investigate him and the thousands of other doctors and health professionals who both offer to pray for, and with their patients.

In a further interview with the Telegraph (4 Feb), Stammers continues: “There is a difference between making an inquiry about prayer and suggesting that someone does it… It cannot be unprofessional in the right context, particularly when patients have a serious illness, to ask if a patient has a faith or an ideology that supports them… In my view, not asking about someone’s faith is showing an inadequate level of care. Patients will be poorer off as a result.”

As a Christian medical student, I do believe that God can miraculously answer prayer and heal people as he chooses. However, I also believe that God heals through clinical medicine; otherwise I would have no reason to be a student. Those families who have lost children by praying round them in circles rather than making the most of available medical care are misguided in their understanding of how God promises in the Bible to work for the good of his people.

Mr Howell rightly says that “the NHS is a public service, and as such, should remain completely neutral when it comes to religion.” However it should also provide holistic services for all those who require them, of all faiths and none. There is no suggestion that Mrs Petrie, the suspended nurse, was trying to spend all her time praying for people instead of carrying out her medical duties, nor was she trying to proselytise her patients.

There seems to be confusion on this issue even within the NHS, as some trusts employ a spiritual care team while other trusts have very little provision for spiritual care beyond the hospital chaplain. NHS Scotland guidance states that “while it is important that the patient’s right to confidentiality is respected, it is also important to ensure this does not result in a failure to provide patients with the available spiritual or religious care”.

We seem to be in a position where aggressive atheism has become quite intolerant of the expression of religious faith in a professional setting. In a society which prides itself on values of respect and tolerance, that is a very sad thing indeed.


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