Student nurse Karen talks about the rarely acknowledged but important role that hospital chaplains play in multidisciplinary teams serving patients, particularly in specialist palliative care
I was able to spend time with a NHS trust chaplain during my placement to gain a sense of what the chaplaincy service offers, how it works alongside the nursing team and how the chaplain meets the needs of patients. I know that the chaplaincy service, as a whole, can cover a wide area of care facilities but I looked at the role of the chaplain in specialist palliative care.
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The United Kingdom Board of Healthcare Chaplains (UKBHC) certifies chaplains and the NHS can fully employ them. Hospital chaplains are ordained/accredited leaders of a faith in the community and are usually linked with a background in healthcare or counselling.
The chaplaincy service meets patients, their families and anyone else important to them. The patient does not have to follow a particular religion or belief. If the patient is of another faith, the chaplain can arrange for someone from that faith to visit. As I mentioned, the chaplain does not perform religious duties, but is someone to just talk to, for family to turn to or be consoled by and someone who offers a space to put forward questions or express fears when approaching end of life.
The chaplain can discuss spirituality, help people see who they are, what they have achieved in life and can address any feelings they may have about their own life events. The UKBHC suggests that not providing effective spiritual care could cause a patient distress. In some cases, this could lead to a patient’s refusal to consent to treatment. A chaplain is guided entirely by the needs of the patients and their recognised plan of care.
In the religious sense, the chaplain can minister at weddings, give marriage blessings, minister at funerals and perform all the duties of a hospital chaplain. A chapel is usually close to the ward/unit where a patient is staying with Communion and prayers at the bedside offered, if required. A chaplain is there to meet the needs of patients, carers and staff alike all year round and not just for Christmas!
The chaplain works with the nursing team and is a valuable part of the multidisciplinary team. Patients do not need referrals because the chaplain visits the ward and meets people whenever required. The chaplain contributes to weekly team meetings. I found that when clinicians were faced with the ever changing needs of their patients, some at the end of life, the chaplain would provide thoughtful responses around the joint provision of care.
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From talking to the chaplain, I learned that he is there for everyone, not just for patients but the staff too. The chaplain offers supervision, allowing reflection on care delivery or a patient. He can also offer teaching services, usually looking at spiritual care and communication skills for health professionals at all levels. Confidentiality is practiced at all times, which creates a safe, therapeutic space to talk openly about feelings, thoughts and concerns. I understand that not only issues in the work setting but even personal matters can be discussed. In specialist palliative care, the chaplain is seen as invaluable to patients, family/carers and staff.
The chaplain is a friendly face when life seems challenging and it’s been enlightening to learn about the chaplaincy service.
Karen Ollosson is in her second year studying mental health nursing at the University of East Anglia.