New research highlights the need for more non-religious pastoral support in healthcare

20 September, 2018

A two year study by Marie Curie into improving access to palliative care has revealed that there is frequently a lack of pastoral support for non-religious patients, and that the risk of religious evangelism in current chaplaincy provision is perceived as a barrier by them to receiving adequate care. Humanists UK welcomes this research, which supports similar research carried out by the Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network (NRPSN) and underlines the need for non-religious pastoral support.

The study found ‘there is an increasing need to consider how we can meet the spiritual and pastoral support needs of people who are non-religious within palliative care settings… Many non-religious participants felt that concerns around how we provide spiritual care for the non-religious would be a barrier to their access to care. People said they fear “religious evangelism and attempts to convert during times of extreme emotional stress” or simply a lack of any provision of support for non-religious people based on an assumption that they would not need spiritual support.’

At present, non-religious people are not effectively provided pastoral support in many UK institutional and community settings. In 2015, Humanists UK founded the NRPSN, a national professional network of individuals providing pastoral care, which already has over 150 trained and accredited carers, who are being supported by Humanists UK to meet this demand. Members of the NRPSN are now present in over one-third of all NHS Trusts and 15 percent of prisons.

Humanists UK’s head of Pastoral Support Simon O’Donoghue commented, ‘This Marie Curie research supports what we have known for a long time, that most non-religious people in need of pastoral support would like to receive it from a carer who shares their worldview. Such support is often not currently available and this means that often the non-religious often feel overlooked. The NRPSN has worked hard in the past few years not only to provide such support for non-religious people in times of high stress and vulnerability, but also overcome the assumption that the non-religious would not need such support.’


For media requests for further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or on 020 7324 3072.

Read more about the NRPSN:

Humanists UK 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.

The Non-Religious Pastoral Support Network is a network of people who provide non-religious pastoral support across a range of institutional and community settings. We aim to grow our network of accredited non-religious pastoral support providers and foster it as a mutually supportive, professionalised community of practice. We encourage and support our volunteers, whilst engaging with relevant bodies to ensure the equal provision of care for the non-religious throughout the UK.