Humanists UK has launched an appeal to fund hospital chaplains for nonbelievers, which some Christians warn could lead to existing chaplains being squeezed out.

Richy Thomson, director of public affairs and policy for Humanists UK, said nonbelievers are neglected by hospital chaplains.

“Nonreligious people want to meet someone who is like-minded, and the data suggests religious chaplains don’t generally visit nonreligious people,” he said. “Research shows that only around 4 percent of visits by religious chaplains are to the nonreligious.”

Indications are that chaplains’ numbers are shrinking. A 2015 survey by the Health and Social Care Information Centre said there were 916 chaplains, a reduction of 20 percent from the previous five years.

Canon Malcolm Brown, director of mission and public affairs for the Church of England, said: “Every trust works out the numbers of chaplains and affiliations of chaplains differently, and those appointing chaplains have to give a clear reason if an appointment is specifically designated as requiring someone of a particular religious denomination or belief. This might be to reflect, for example, the makeup of the local population.”

He added that the church needs to work hard to prove the need for chaplaincy posts.

Professor Jim McManus, a Roman Catholic specialist on healthcare, said: “There should be a national audit so that we can get a clear picture of people needs across the country and then make provision accordingly.”

A humanist chaplain was appointed for the first time in April. Lindsay van Dijk now leads a team in the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust. The team includes three Christian chaplains and 24 volunteers.

John Martin

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