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RCGP cautiously endorses chaplains in GP practices

Practices can hire chaplains to provide ‘religious support’ for patients, the RCGP has said.

This comes as GPs at a practice in Birmingham are referring patients to an in-house chaplain for patients needing help with more than psychological and social issues.

The RCGP said it doesn’t fully endorse practice-based chaplaincy but understands that there is more to a patient’s physical health, and as such, GPs should take into account a patient’s religious and spiritual beliefs.

Karis Medical Centre in Birmingham, which serves just over 14,000 patients, has acquired funding from Birmingham and Solihull CCG to host a chaplain in-house through its PMS contract.

A spokesperson for NHS Birmingham and Solihull CCG said: ‘We understand that Karis Medical Centre currently funds a chaplain, through its PMS contract. This would have been a decision made by the former primary care trust. All PMS contracts are currently being reviewed by the CCG.’

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said spirituality and religion ‘could have a relevance’ to GPs diagnosing and treating patients’ pain.

She said: ‘GPs understand that there is considerably more to a patient’s health than just physical factors, which is why we always endeavour to take into account any psychological and social issues – which may include a person’s religious and spiritual beliefs – that could have relevance to their health, when making a diagnosis and developing a treatment plan.

‘But GPs and our teams, in the vast majority of cases, are not trained religious leaders and it would be inappropriate for patients to expect comprehensive spiritual support from us.

‘Some patients would find offers of religious support from their healthcare professional offensive, and the General Medical Council offers doctors specific advice in this area.’

Professor Stokes-Lampard added that for many people, the support from religious leaders ‘can be beneficial’ to the patients who might have an underlying reason for visiting their GP.

‘We do understand that that for many people with specific religious or spiritual beliefs, the support and comfort they receive from their religious leaders and networks can be beneficial, particularly when they are ill or vulnerable – and we have heard of some successful and popular examples whereby GP practices are based at the same site as multi-faith chapels and similar spaces for their patients to attend for spiritual reflection and support.

‘We also know that the underlying reason a person visits the GP might not be medical – for example, they might be lonely, and this in turn might be impacting on their physical and mental health and wellbeing. For people in these situations who have a religious belief, or seek support from religion, a community group based around their religion, could really help.’

The news follows three GPs announcing they are standing to be the next RCGP chair replacing Professor Stokes-Lampard in November.

In addition, RCGP has recently said it will consult its 53,000 members for their stance on assisted dying.