A member of clergy in the Diocese of Chester has found that people are more likely to self-declare religious affiliation when receiving hospital treatment. This contrasts with reports that state that half of the country subscribes to no religion.
The Revd Professor Peter Selby, a consultant endocrinologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary and a Non-Stipendiary Minister at St Andrew’s, Cheadle Hume, studied the religious affiliation of all patients treated at his NHS trust over the past five years: a total of 263,288 people.
Of the people that answered the question regarding religious belief, a total of 194,538 people (73.1%), of these, 15.1% stated that they had no religious belief; 65.5% described themselves as belonging to a Christian denomination; and 18.1% reported that they belonged to a non-Christian religion.
These proportions are significantly different from those gathered through the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey. Data from the four years between 2013 and 2016 found that 50% reported no religious faith; 42% were Christian, and 7% had a non-Christian faith.
The age distribution of the two sets of data was not dissimilar, but the NHS data contained a greater proportion of patients aged 18 to 34. The BSA survey showed a progressively lower rate of “no religion” with advancing age: something much less marked in the other set. Even if those who declined to answer the religion question were included among the “Nones”, the total (38.2%) would still be “significantly lower” than that reported by the BSA survey, Professor Selby writes in his paper.
Professor Selby undertook the study as part of his ordination training. Ordained in July at Chester Cathedral, he is currently serving his curacy at St Andrew’s, Cheadle Hume.
The Revd Professor Peter Selby says: “I think when people are confronting health, illness, potentially even bad-news situations, an end of life situation, they begin to ask questions about fundamental things that matter to them. They don’t loom large on people’s agenda, and God can stay to one side, while you are enjoying your social life, health and happiness.
“It’s only when the boat gets rocked a little bit that we perhaps have an opportunity to be saying to people ‘Well, what do you really think about these important matters?’”
The results, if repeated nationally, might point to a greater need for spiritual provision in hospitals, he argues. “If we are offering holistic care to people, we need to offer spiritual care.”
This story is based on a Church Times article from the 14 September.