Highland health workers pray for their patients

Tain and District Medical Group
Tain and District Medical GrouAmidst the debate about spirituality in the Health Service, Highland health care professionals have affirmed their commitment to caring for the spiritual aspects of their patients’ health.

A Highand GP has said that in the course of his work he always prays for the patients under his care. Speaking to Christians Together, Tain physician Dr. Brian Fitzimons has said he feels it is both his responsibility and his privilege as a Christian working in general medical practice to uphold his patients in prayer. In the confidential relationship between GP and patient, Fitzimons is always ready, should a patient so wish, to discuss the spiritual aspects of life; and having once engaged in discussion of this nature he is very willing, again at the patient’s request, to pray openly for him or her.
He observes: “Jesus prayed for those around him, and as a disciple of Jesus I am just doing the same. Indeed Jesus advised his disciples that in some cases only prayer can achieve a restoration. "I trust that I remain continually aware of patients' spiritual needs and respond with sensitivity to any discussion that opens up relating to these needs.  Meanwhile, a Christian nurse in the Highlands has also affirmed that she always prays privately for her patients and is most willing to do so with the patient if they make that request or otherwise indicate that the patient would appreciate that expression of care and support.

This readiness amongst Christian health workers to pray for patients comes in the midst of a furore over the reaction to a suspension of a nurse in Somerset because she prayed for an elderly patient.

Doctor at bedsideHowever Mr. Stephen Hutchison, a Consultative Physician in Palliative Care at the Highland Hospice has said that he prays with his patients whenever he senses that they would like him to do so. Dr. Hutchison said “I sometimes ask them if they would like me to [pray for them]. It doesn’t happen very often; and it it’s not ‘out of the blue’ but normally in the context of some supportive discussion. “And if sometimes I just sense that prayer might be something that the patient wants then I offer to do this for them: but I make it very clear to them that it’s OK for them to say ‘No’”. Hutchison nevertheless stressed that there was no way in which any vulnerability in those who are ill is not subject to well-meaning but unappreciated expressions of care. “One of the crucial things about Jesus’ own approach to things, and therefore mine is that Jesus gave people to reject what he was offering. “He made it very clear himself, that they were free to walk away if they turned him down.”

Meanwhile, Caroline Petrie, the nurse who has been under suspension has now been invited to resume her duties as soon as she wishes. But the issue of spiritual care is causing health authorities across the UK to examine its policies and guidelines.

Recognition of spiritual dimension to patient care

A document entititled ‘Spiritual Care and Chaplaincy in NHS Scotland 2008’ states:

“It is widely recognised that the spiritual is a natural dimension of what it means to be human. The awareness of self, of relationship with others and with creation, the finitude of life, the search for meaning, for the transcendent, and the need to be acknowledged, accepted, valued and loved, are all parts of this dimension.
“Many express these understandings and experiences through a belief system, by holding to a set of values, or through belonging with and participating in the life of a faith community.

“Among basic spiritual needs that might be addressed within the normal, daily activity of healthcare are:
  • The need to give and receive love
  • The need to be understood
  • The need to be valued as a human being
  • The need for forgiveness, hope and trust
  • The need to explore beliefs and values
  • The need to express feelings honestly
  • The need to find meaning and purpose in life”

Nurse with patientNHS Orkney’s guidelines state:

“The need for spiritual care demonstrates that people are not merely physical bodies requiring mechanical fixing. People find that their spirituality helps them maintain health and cope with illnesses, trauma, losses and life transitions by integrating body, mind and spirit. Spirituality is a part of health.”

Terminally-ill patient finds peace

In this context Stephen Hutchison and (Rev. Dr.) Iain Macritchie who is Head of Chaplaincy Services for NHS Highland, co-authored a paper for the Scottish Journal of Healthcare Chaplaincy in May 2008 which outlined a case of a woman who was terminally ill but only found true peace once the spiritual issues in her life had been resolved. The article stated:

Consultation with the chaplain helped the patient to resolve denominational issues from core issues of Christian faith. She gradually recognised a growing faith which she eventually found sustaining as death approached, laterally articulated as, "I believe that Christ has called me by name, and I am His." This sustenance was particularly evident when her pain improved significantly whilst talking, praying, or reading scripture with the chaplain. A person manifestly in pain would become relaxed and even cheerful following a time of prayer or reading or conversation about spiritual issues. Moreover, a personal alignment with the emotions expressed in Psalm 130 'Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD', caused a deeply cathartic outpouring of emotion, following which she was able to address issues of grief and loss.

She purposefully attended to a variety of practical affairs, including discussing her own funeral arrangements. She specifically wanted the chaplain, who conducted her funeral, to communicate to the congregation that true fulfilment in her life had indeed been found in Christ.

The authors of the paper (including Terry Veitch, a Mental Health Nurse based at Raigmore Hospital) expressed their thanks to an Inverness Christian consultant surgeon for involving them with the care of his patient.

Meanwhile, supportive comments have flooded in to the Christian Medical Fellowship regarding nurse Caroline Petrie, whilst the Christian Legal Centre quotes Dr. Peter Saunders the General Secretary of the Christian Medical Fellowship as saying (01/02/09): "There are many thousands of Christian healthcare workers and those of other faiths for whom prayer is a normal daily part of their lives as it is for millions of NHS patients." It is good to know that healthcare professionals in the Highlands are numbered amongst them.



NHS Scotland Spiritual Care Revised Guidelines

Spritual Care Policies

NHS Highland
NHS Shetland Isles
NHS Orkney Isles
NHS Western Isles

The following conference is being run for NHS staff in Scotland

<click on image below for further details>
Spirituality Conference

Christians Together, 06/02/2009

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