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Humanists UK calls for high-quality pastoral support to be part of NHS long-term plan

On the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service, Humanists UK has responded to a consultation held by NHS England on its plan to respond to society’s changes over the next ten years. Humanists UK has called for the increasing of provision for pastoral support for non-religious patients and staff to be considered a top priority in addressing inequality in the NHS.

Equality was one of the guiding principles during the creation of the NHS: that all citizens regardless of means, employment, or social background should be able to access the same quality of care, free at the point of use. However, there is a significant imbalance in the provision of pastoral, spiritual and religious care between the religious and the non-religious.

A recent two-year study by Marie Curie into improving access to palliative care in hospices 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 can often prevent them in accessing adequate care. The same is true in the NHS, where currently, only eight NHS trusts have a paid non-religious pastoral carer on their chaplaincy/pastoral support team, most of these on a part time basis, and only one-third of trusts provide such support in a voluntary capacity. This capacity is insufficient to cater for a non-religious population estimated to make up over 50% of British adults.

Humanists UK’s Head of Pastoral Support Simon O’Donoghue commented, ‘The lack of appropriate pastoral care provided for non-religious patients and staff is one of the biggest examples of inequality within the NHS. To address this problem, we believe that NHS England must prioritise implementing good practice both in recruitment and in the refocusing of those current services upon patients’ and staffs’ pastoral and spiritual needs as well as their religious ones.’


For media requests for further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Campaigns Officer Rachel Taggart-Ryan at

Read more about the NRPSN:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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.

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