Walking on eggshells in the NHS

From NSS e-bulletin
Monday 26 January 2009
popularity : 1%

At one time you went to the hospital to be treated for illness and injuries. Everybody was treated the same way, and you came home with your bandages, plaster cast, pills and potions, C-difficile or whatever.

Nowadays there are demands from religious groups to be treated differently. A new set of guidelines has been published by the Department of Health called "Religion and Belief: a practical guide for the NHS" which take these into account.

It represents a nightmare for the already overstretched staff working in hospitals and clinics around the country. Every action must be accompanied by a hundred considerations about whether it will offend someone because of their "faith". It isn’t the fault of the NHS, of course. The Government has burdened everyone with this legal responsibility to tread on eggshells around believers or else risk ending up in court.

We have become familiar with the clashes over "conscience clauses" in various codes of practice that allow doctors to refuse abortions, pharmacists to refuse contraception, nurses to refuse to wear the standard issue uniform and on and on. We have heard of religious doctors who have refused to treat gay and transgendered people. Every hospital now has to have a prayer room, a chaplain, separate catering facilities for all the various bizarre food restrictions that religious people impose upon themselves (and soon on the rest of us).

Religious holidays have to be taken into account when arranging staff training, interviews and organising shift rotas.

To be fair, the guidelines do recognise that not everyone is religious, and that the feelings of atheists have as much right to respect as religious people have. So although religious people can ask for days off for religious holidays and time off for prayers, and managers must look at their requests sympathetically, it cannot be at the expense of non-believers who would be left to take up the extra work.

In France, hospitals have been the centre of clashes between religious demands and secularism. In one instance, a Muslim man whose wife was in hospital having a baby, punched a male gynaecologist because he "touched his wife". The man was prosecuted and the hospital had to erect notices reminding patients that it was a secular space, not a religious battleground.

Being considerate of people’s beliefs is one thing, but when that consideration becomes a heavy burden and starts to eat into the hospital’s valuable time and resources — which are supposed to be for everyone’s benefit — it is time to stop and ask questions. If people want prayer rooms, they will usually find one at their mosque. If they want a chapel, there is one on every street corner. Why is the NHS being obliged to fund all this religion? Like the parasites that they are, hospital chaplains eat into scarce funding and provide services that very few people want.

Why doesn’t the church pay for these services itself if they think they are so vital? Then the hospital could employ two nurses or another doctor or a team of cleaners for every chaplain that paid his own way.

Read the guidelines here See also: Religion digs itself even further into Welsh hospitals


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