Spirituality in Medical Care Practice – discussion time

Spiritual care has been defined as: ‘That care which recognises and responds to the needs of the human spirit when faced with trauma, ill-health or sadness and can include the need for meaning, for self-worth, to express oneself, for faith support, perhaps for rites or prayer or sacrament, or simply for a sensitive listener. Spiritual care begins with encouraging human contact in compassionate relationship, and moves in whatever direction need requires.’ (Spiritual care matters, NHS Education for Scotland (2009).)

In view of the publication of the Royal College of Nursing’s latest guide to Spirituality (which can be found HERE) we here at Chesterfield Pagans thought it might be time for a discussion: is Spirituality a valid part of holistic long and short-term patient care in places such as hospitals, cancer hospices,  and other medical centres, or should these places be focusing their tightly budgeted resources on the physical well-being of a patient?  If you’ve been into hospital or a medical centre to stay, have your spiritual/religious/ well-being needs been met as part of your care?

Every large hospital usually has a chapel/ prayer rooms and chaplain on duty, as a pagan would you prefer a sacred outdoor garden for you to go and connect with the divine, or simply sit in peace?  If you have stayed in hospital, or visited a patient, have you used the chapel or prayer rooms for your own comfort?  What about  the chaplain: did you find their own Christian beliefs a factor in your decision to talk to them or not?  Would your decision be different if they were a Sikh or Imam?  Some larger hospitals now have a multi-faith chaplaincy, would you prefer these as standard in all medical centres?

Is being an active listener and caring for a patient beyond the physical needs simply good nursing practice?  In 2009, a nurse was suspended for offering to pray for a patient, what guidelines would you set for carers, nurses and medical staff with respect to personal spirituality and religious practices?

If you have been a patient and disclosed a belief in an aspect of paganism, how have the staff reacted to it?  Have you perceived a difference in the way you were treated after you told them, or a difference in how you were treated compared to the other patients?  Was this a positive or negative change?

Does this holistic spiritually inclusive approach to patient care extend to places like outpatients departments, or follow-up appointments? If you were able to run a medical centre, how would you choose to balance physical recovery with spiritual care?

Let the discussions begin 🙂


2 thoughts on “Spirituality in Medical Care Practice – discussion time

  1. Having worked in hospitals on and off since 1959, I have seen the whole spectrum of spiritual care offered therein. As a very young laboraotory technician, (we collected our own blood samples in those days so I had regular contact with the wards) I would often come across priests/vicars, never Pagan practitioners in those dark days, visiting patients on the wards. Stays in hospital were much longer back in the past for several reasons and so it was possible for the hospital chaplains to get lists of potential clients and visit several times while the patient was in recovery.
    Eventually I trained as a nurse, and wholistic care was well emphasised and we were expected to include it in written essays for just about any care plan. When examination papers were directed to multiple choice questions to replace long essay type answers, questions were geared to a more practical knowledge in the now much shorter inpatient care plan. It was realised that patients recovered much quicker if made to get out of bed and move around rather than be bed-bound for days, even weeks in some cases, thus the visiting clerics never got a chance to meet the same patients on several occasions and offer pastoral care; it was more just a cheery “hello, how are you?” sort of connection. I suppose some patients who had regular contact with their clergy outside the hospital environment did have contact in normal visiting hours, but by then I had made my career choice to work in theatre so I lost contact with the daily routine of the hospital chaplains.
    Now that a lot of care is going towards day surgery, the chance for spiritual input is zilch. Get ’em in, get ’em done and send ’em out is the way forward so perhaps a new idea of sending the pastoral care (if acceptable to the patient) could be worked round home visits during convalescence. I don’t think offering to pray for a patient is appropriate and should not be encouraged. It has been my experience that patients leave day surgery still euphoric after anaethesia, whether it be general or regional, and the shock of the assault on the organism does not kick in until later when they are at home and could probably do with the ministration if desired.
    As I have little contact with long stay patients I can only go on personal experience of being treated by the NHS. During my fortunately brief stays in hospital, I have never been offered spiritual care, but if it had been available in those days, I think I would have welcomed a visit from a caring Pagan. Having a quiet outside space sounds wonderful but not very practical. Most hospitals (hospices not included) are in urban environments and not conducive to quiet contemplation, also it is usually illegal to let a patient leave a ward unaccompanied by a member of staff (duty of care etc) and there are never enough staff for the normal care of patients let alone any free to sit in quiet contemplation off the ward area.
    If I were now in the position of providing care in any/all hospital departments, I think I would make it part of the routine to offer spiritual care to all patients, along with the routine questions of name, age, address etc. and if the box for yes was ticked, take it from there. My experience of people in general is that they don’t want to discuss religion or politics with strangers and if they have a particular faith, will be able to arrange to meet with their representative pastoral carer without hospital intervention. In these days of tight budgetary control, money spent on employing somebody just to offer the service could be better spent on care of the physical body. A list of willing volunteers would be helpful. Very religious people usually have their own systems of spritual need in place and the rest probably only think about it in dire circumstances. Many are the deathbed conversions.
    As to the question of the hospital chapel, I passed by mine twice every working day and cannot recall ever seeing it occupied.
    I would have liked to discuss religion with a Sikh or an Imam etc, but I don’t think I would have been in much of a conducive frame of mind whilst a patient, but would have welcomed a cheery blessing and wish for a speedy recovery from any well meaning cleric.
    I am listed as Pagan in my hospital data base but nobody has ever commented on it. Perhaps this is a sign of acceptance, but I think it might be a sign of ignorance or even worse, fear.
    I have yet to read in detail the Royal College’s survey on sprituality and care, but I suspect as in many things, this will be a well researched document, going into unecessary depth and recommending impractical solutions to rare events and missing the obvious. Please forgive the synicism of old age and a little experience.

  2. This is an interesting question, and I was fascinated to read Newboldwitch’s comments on it as someone who has worked in the medical profession. For myself, never having had to either care for patients (I don’t mean I don’t care about patients, just that I don’t care for them – which if anything sounds even worse, doesn’t it?) or juggle hospital budgets, I’ve only ever really thought about the basic questions of whether catering for someone’s spirituality could help their recovery, and whether making an offer of spiritual care could be construed as offensive.

    A 2011 article in Pulse magazine, which is a weekly publication aimed at UK GPs (and whose website, I should caution you, is ‘intended for health professionals only’, so read at your own risk), reported a decision by the General Medical Council to allow a doctor to pray with patients, as long as the patient was ‘receptive’ to the offer. The article discusses the difficulty of finding out whether a patient would be receptive to the offer before it’s made.

    One doctor is quoted in the article as saying:

    “To even consider bringing religion into consultations is unacceptable. It’s as bizarre as bringing up witchcraft or folklore. I’m extremely respectful of patients that are religious. That is their personal belief, but we shouldn’t bring our personal beliefs into consultations.”

    I struggle to see how a doctor can engage properly with patients if they hold an attitude like to something that might potentially be a central element of that patient’s life and worldview. I’d guess that most people in the UK might be nominally Christian at best – it’s not necessarily something that determines their entire perspective (not consciously, at any rate), but there are certainly enough people for whom faith is of crucial importance that it makes it unsafe to dismiss their religion as ‘folklore’. I know there’s an ongoing debate about whether prayer works for the sick – and as I understand it most experiments have shown that any observed improvement is likely down to the placebo effect… But I’ve always felt that an improvement is an improvement, whether or not it’s psychosomatic.

    Of course if we’re talking about a doctor pushing his or her own religious beliefs on a patient whether they want them or not, then sure, I’d accept that that was complaint-worthy. My own personal view is that sincere conversion attempts represent an effort by someone to save me from what they might honestly believe is going to be a nasty bout of damnation – but in a medical setting it’s fair to expect professionalism and while I don’t object very strongly to unsolicited preaching by, say, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, I wouldn’t expect it from a doctor while I’m busy trying to recover from an illness or injury.

    Taking note of Newboldwitch’s comments on time and resources, I suppose that in most cases, religious and spiritual support is something that doctors and hospitals might look on as a bit of a luxury; but in an ideal world I think it would be of great benefit to offer care and attention to this side of a patient’s life as well as the purely physical.

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