NHS workers are turning to hospital chaplains to support them as they struggle with the impact of staff shortages, Winter illnesses and the cost of living crisis.
The mental health charity Doctors in Distress says health workers are facing an “unimaginable crisis” and the President of the College of Health Care Chaplains, Dr Simon Harrison says hospital chaplains are witnessing acute stresses and strains among staff in the NHS.
Sarah Chaplin works as a chaplain at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro. It’s the only acute hospital in the county and serves a population of 750,000. Sarah says its emergency department is under extreme pressure and there are often queues of ambulances waiting outside. She’s been speaking to Premier about the pressures on staff :
“We are finding our role as a chaplain in supporting staff very much at the forefront of our role. A chaplain is always there for patients and their families, and always there for staff. But I think especially over the last couple of years, and this last 12 months, we are very much supporting staff here on the ground – in some very difficult circumstances.
“I think a prevalent thing is exhaustion, absolute exhaustion, having worked through COVID, and now through the current NHS crisis and bed shortages, I think exhaustion is a real issue.
“I think sometimes staff feel undervalued. I think at the root of some of their angst is that they don't feel listened to. This is also a huge role of a chaplain, we listen.
“Staff have their own issues outside of the workplace with family and finances and other concerns such as the cost of living crisis. As chaplains we’ve assured everyone, whatever crisis we are facing, whether it's COVID, the flu crisis, the cost of living crisis, the NHS crisis, the ambulance crisis, we are present. We are Padres with the troops, present with the staff. It’s a real privilege –chaplaincy is absolutely integral as they're looking to us for help and for hope.
“Our role is really unique, but what a privilege to stand alone alongside colleagues who are really going through tough things.”
Hospital chaplains offer emotional and spiritual support to hospital staff as well as patients, relatives and friends. They can provide support during a crisis as well as during ongoing recovery. They offer support to people of all faiths and none.
Many NHS staff are taking part in industrial action over pay and conditions this winter. Members of the Royal College of Nursing are striking on 18th and 19th January, members of the GMB and UNISON (ambulance staff) are striking on 11th January and members of UNISON (ambulance staff) are striking on 23rd January 2023.
Sarah Chaplin who works as part of a team of five chaplains within the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, says prayer is particularly important at this time :
“Please pray for us as a team as we roll out our daily work. We never know what the day will hold. Pray for us as we support our executive team and Chief Executive, especially with the forthcoming nurses’ strike. We need to be impartial in all of that, understand where that's coming from, but also support our hospital while things will creak and groan a little under that strain. Pray for wisdom, for energy and for strength for this wonderful compassion as we roll out our job. That will be a really great help.”