National first as humanist ‘pastoral carer’ joins Leicester Hospitals

4 January, 2016

Leicester Hospitals have become the first in the UK to employ a non-religious pastoral carer. Jane Flint, whose part-time post is being charitably funded, will provide pastoral support to patients, families, and staff with non-religious beliefs from 4 January. The British Humanist Association (BHA) has welcomed the news that the non-religious will now be provided for in this way.

Jane has had extensive experience in caring professions, with qualifications in psychotherapy, adult education, and counselling and she is accredited in non-religious pastoral support by the British Humanist Association (BHA), with whom she is also an accredited funeral celebrant. In previous roles in the NHS, Jane has provided counselling support to trainee doctors and in Primary Care and she currently provides psychological support to children and families in the Nottingham Child Development centre.

Mark Burleigh, Head of Chaplaincy and Bereavement Services for Leicester’s Hospitals, said, ‘Whilst our chaplains have always supported non-religious patients, I am really excited at this development to broaden the choice for patients. Jane will give pastoral and spiritual support to patients who have non-religious beliefs and who would welcome the opportunity to speak to someone with a similar outlook on life. The Chaplaincy supports patients as they face many distressing situations and Jane will enhance that care.’

On taking up the post, Jane commented: ‘I am enthusiastic about joining the Chaplaincy department at Leicester’s Hospitals and working collaboratively with the multi-faith team to ensure a service can be offered that meets the needs of all patients and staff.’

Although Jane will be a member of the ‘Chaplaincy Team’, her own job title will be ‘Pastoral Carer’, reflecting the fact that her role is to provide non-religious emotional support. David Savage, Head of Pastoral Support at the BHA, explained:

‘Research shows that the term “chaplain” is a barrier to use of these pastoral services by non-religious people, so a new term is needed. It’s great to see that this inclusive approach, putting the needs of service users first, rather than the unnecessary use of terminology that confuses. The term “pastoral support” is now widely used in a variety of secular contexts to refer to this sort of care and is highly appropriate.’

As BHA Head of Pastoral Support, David Savage is the chair of the Non-religious Pastoral Support Network, a growing network of experienced providers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, accredited by the BHA as being able to provide pastoral care to like-minded people in settings such as healthcare, prisons and elsewhere. He continued:

Guidance from NHS England last year made it clear that NHS bodies in England were obliged to provide pastoral support and care to non-religious people on the same basis as chaplaincy is provided to the religious. Leicester Hospitals are the first to translate that into paid staff provision but our accredited volunteers are well-placed to help NHS bodies to meet their obligations and the needs of non-religious patients and staff. We look forward to working with Leicester to monitor this new initiative, and using what we learn to improve our provision across the country.’

BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson congratulated Leicester Hospitals on the initiative, saying ‘Leicester, as a city of great diversity, has always blazed an inclusive trail. We pay tribute in particular to Eleanor Davidson who, as a humanist volunteer at Leicester Hospitals for many years, encouraged the appointment of non-religious pastoral carers and laid the foundation for this development. She is typical of the many dedicated accredited pastoral carers we’re lucky to have in our network, from whose professional support non-religious people across the country increasingly benefit. ’


For further comment or information, please contact BHA Campaigns Officer Jay Harman on or 020 7324 3078.

Watch the NHS video ‘Leicester hospitals appoint a non-religious member of the Chaplaincy team’ 

Read the BHA’s previous news item ‘New NHS obligation to provide equal pastoral care to non-religious in England’:

Read more about the BHA’s non-religious pastoral support network:

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.