New NHS obligation to provide equal pastoral care to non-religious in England

6 March, 2015

With the publication today of new national guidance, NHS bodies in England will be obliged for the first time to provide pastoral support and care to non-religious people on the same basis as chaplaincy is provided to the religious.

Promoting Excellence in Pastoral, Spiritual & Religious Care marks a significant departure from previous guidance, which focussed solely on religious chaplaincy and the needs of the religious. It makes clear that NHS bodies in England must deliver appropriate pastoral care to the non-religious; it mandates the equal treatment of those with a religion and those without a religion in the receipt of pastoral care; and it makes clear that managers must ensure that a comprehensive service must be in place that meets the needs of the non-religious.

The British Humanist Association (BHA), which worked with NHS England on the new guidance, has welcomed the inclusion of the needs of non-religious people, and announced the expansion of its own non-religious pastoral support volunteer network to help NHS bodies meet their new obligations.

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson commented, ‘We look forward to the day when all paid posts providing pastoral care in NHS bodies will be open to all applicants without any religious restrictions. Until then, we welcome this progressive move by NHS England and are pleased to have worked with them to bring it about. We are committed to ensuring that all people with non-religious beliefs have access to pastoral support, just as religious people have access to such support, and look forward to expanding our own contribution as part of our growing community services work.’

David Savage, BHA Head of Pastoral Support, and himself a provider of pastoral care to the non-religious as part of the volunteer chaplaincy team at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital, commented, ‘The new guidance puts patients first and focuses on their needs. As a result, we are delighted that pastoral and “spiritual” support will now begin to be accessible to the large numbers of non-religious patients and staff across the NHS. The law is already clear that non-religious prisoners have the legal right to request a humanist pastoral care provider as an alternative to a religious chaplain. It is great that the same situation will now exist in healthcare settings.

‘Our pastoral care work is volunteer-led and we have been overwhelmed by the number of applicant trainees with extensive backgrounds in counselling and other specialisms who are joining our growing team. We are certain it will not be long before humanist pastoral support becomes the same vital service to non-religious people in this country that humanist ceremonies have become for that vast majority of Britons who have non-religious beliefs.’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Director of Public Affairs and Campaigns Pavan Dhaliwal on or 0773 843 5059.

For more information on the Non Religious Pastoral Support Network (NPSN) see

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.