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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 May, 2004, 06:19 GMT 07:19 UK
'Chaplain's help saw me through'
By Donald Hiscock

Rev Chris Johnson
Rev Chris Johnson provides support
When Jackie Hill was forced to spend long periods of time as an in-patient at Bradford Royal Infirmary the last thing she thought she needed was spiritual counselling from a man of the cloth.

Jackie, like many people, took the view that a visit from a hospital chaplain meant little more than a kind word of comfort with a Christian message.

"In the past I went out of my way to avoid The God Squad," she said.

However, Jackie hadn't expected the thoroughly modern approach to hospital chaplaincy adopted by Reverend Chris Johnson and his multi-faith team.

Chris saw me as a person and not as a patient
Jackie Hill
"Chris was there when I needed advice," she said. "He helped me to structure my thoughts. He wasn't judgmental and I didn't feel pushed.

"He allowed me to come to my own conclusions.

"It's very important when you're a patient to have someone supporting you who is not from the medical side.

"When you spend a lot of time in hospital, like I did, you can be seen through your illness. Chris saw me as a person and not as a patient.

"It wasn't about Chris telling me about how I should feel about my illness, it was more about him just being there to listen.

"It was having a regular visitor who became a friend that helped me to recover by encouraging me to see for myself how I wanted to get better."

Jackie admits that her life has now been transformed by the support she received in hospital.

"I've been on the visitors course run by the chaplaincy and I'm now about to help others," she said.

Multi-faith approach

As the Chaplaincy Manager of Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Chris Johnson leads a team of eight chaplains that represent the Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths.

"The chaplaincy is about seeing people as people and not in religious terms. Primarily I have a spiritual responsibility and therefore respect anyone's belief or culture," he said.

"Together with all NHS staff we have to show respect for the religious, spiritual and cultural needs of everyone in the hospital."

Last November the Department of Health launched guidance for NHS Trusts on chaplaincy services in response to the religious diversity of the communities that the NHS serves.

"One way of doing this is for multi-faith support and guidance to be available to today's multi-cultural and spiritually diverse patients and staff," said Chief Nursing Officer Sarah Mullally.

"We see NHS chaplaincy services as offering an important component in the key policy area of improving the patient experience."

Chris Johnson has been a hospital chaplain for seven years, but has worked closely with urban communities in West Yorkshire for 30 years.

He is aware that he is part of a new breed of health care professionals.

"The professional label won't officially come in for a couple of years," he says, "but we are now better trained and offer a 24 hour service."

Training chaplaincy volunteers is an important part of building an effective team.

Sympathetic approach

People working for the chaplaincy provide facilities for prayer and raise cultural awareness among staff, but for many people it's the support they provide in times of bereavement that is invaluable.

"My mother was given a few hours to live and Chris Johnson came to see me," said Christopher Ingleby.

It's about just being there and listening
Rev Chris Johnson
"He was very sympathetic, had time for me, and told me I could keep in touch.

"I didn't have a vicar at the time so Chris conducted the funeral service. We've kept in touch ever since."

It is the inter-denominational nature of the hospital chaplaincy in Bradford that Chris Johnson is particularly pleased about.

He values the way religions work together: "We're a good example to the outside world of an ecumenical approach."

One thing that a modern chaplaincy has dispensed with is the wearing of religious garments. This is all part of making the chaplaincy service non-threatening.

"We don't want to set the agenda," said Mr Johnson. "We work from what people want out of us. We certainly don't evangelise.

"We offer counselling and support. It's about just being there and listening. And this is a service we offer to staff as well."

'No health benefit' from prayer
15 Oct 03  |  Health

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