The role of the chaplain in the NHS


What are Chaplains for?
NHS Chaplains offer a service of spiritual care to all patients, their carers, friends and family as well as the staff of the NHS. The spiritual dimension of life expresses purpose and meaning.  ‘The spiritual dimension evokes feelings which demonstrate the existence of love, faith, hope, trust, awe, inspirations; therein providing meaning and a reason for existence. It comes into focus particularly when an individual faces emotional stress, physical illness or death’ – Narayanasamy, 1999.’

Healthcare Chaplaincy Occupational Standards define the work as that which ‘enables individuals and groups in a healthcare setting to respond to spiritual and emotional need and to the experiences of life and death, illness and injury, in the context of a faith or belief system.’

The work of the Chaplain embodies the spiritual, pastoral and religious care associated with these needs found in the healthcare setting.


Chaplains are salaried NHS employees. They can be found working in most areas of healthcare provision, from Ambulance Trusts to Hospices. Most often though, they work in small teams within an acute healthcare provision and increasingly work in multidisciplinary collaboration with other NHS healthcare providers.

Traditionally, the spiritual dimension of life has frequently been expressed through religious values and beliefs. Professional religious ministers are trained in pastoral care and it is from the faith community base that most chaplains are currently recruited. The vast majority are Anglicans, while others are from the Roman Catholic, Free churches or World Faiths. They are recruited in proportion to the belief patterns of the local population. However, the cultural mix of our society offers great variety of expression of spirituality and therefore healthcare chaplains require specialist training and knowledge before they are considered suitable  for work within the context of a hospital

Entry Requirements
You will usually need a professional qualification, a specific vocational degree or general degree, or the equivalent. You will also require a satisfactory recommendation and authorisation by your faith community to gain entry. Requirements may vary between different employers.

Career Progression
There are at least four levels of chaplain recognised within the NHS, viz, Entry Level Chaplain, Chaplain, Senior Chaplain, and Chaplain Manager or Advanced Practitioner/ Specialist. Entry level is considered as a transition between work as a faith community minister and that of a healthcare chaplain. A qualified chaplain will have proven additional skills and experience. At senior levels there is opportunity to study at post graduate level in Healthcare Chaplaincy. Each level of progression will depend upon suitable growth of qualification, experience and the opportunity of a vacant post.

Job vacancies
Vacancies are normally advertised in the appropriate religious press and on the NHS Jobs website (

Key document

NHS Chaplaincy Guidelines 2015: Promoting Excellence in Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care

Recommended books
for background reading.

Hospital Chaplain’s Handbook, by Mark Cobb, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2005; pp; £14.99; ISBN 1 85311 477 4

Mark Cobb is a well-respected figure in Hospital Chaplaincy. He straddles the dual role of Clinical Director and Senior Chaplain at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, which makes him a unique commentator on both bedside and boardroom manner. He is a sought after speaker in Chaplaincy and champion in bringing a profession that started for most of us in an ancient Cathedral into the high-tech of Intensive Care or the ever changing Management Structures of our Hospital Trusts.


'Being a Chaplain' by the Revd Mark Newitt, Chaplain, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals Trust, published in July 2011. The first five parts of the book gather together stories of 22 chaplains working in a wide variety of contexts (including several healthcare chaplains) and the final part consists of four essays on key themes: multi-faith issues; the core skills needed by a chaplain; models of chaplaincy; and tensions that can arise in the work. Against the sometimes negative stereotypes of chaplaincy we argue that chaplains are a valuable resource to the Church and that our experiences and expertise can be very helpful for thinking about ministry, ecclesiology and the engagement with contemporary society.

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Historic documents

This page was updated 30 June 2016