Voluntary chaplains had been unable to instantly look after coronavirus sufferers
NHS nightingale(Photo: Sky News)
The Church of England ministers, who volunteered to be temporary chaplains in London hospitals, were advised not to directly care for coronavirus patients.
The guidance, which met with criticism, was issued by Bishop of Chelmsford, Rev. Stephen Cottrell, after the head chaplain from NHS Nightingale, the emergency field hospital established at the ExCel Center in London, asked for more hands.
While some clergymen have stepped forward to fill the gap in the chaplains, they have been told that they can only support patients digitally or offer pastoral support to NHS workers.
The instructions apply only to temporary voluntary chaplains. Full-time NHS chaplains can continue to serve face to face.
"The need for extremely strict discipline when dealing with patients cannot be overemphasized," the bishop wrote.
"This means that direct personal contact between patients in the ITU and all chaplains in the Nightingale hospitals is not possible. This also applies to other NHS trusts, although the protocols on non-ITU wards may vary.
"The Church of England supports this approach and should not seek exceptions nationally and across the dioceses as we try to model best practices on behalf of the entire community.
"The Newham experience suggests that much can be done remotely and to assist hospital staff without violating strict distance protocols."
The guidance was sharply criticized by Rev. Marcus Walker, principal at Great St. Bartholomew in London, in a commentary in The Times, saying "Clergymen must be free to serve the sick" during the coronavirus crisis.
"If we are ordained, the bishop will tell each priest that & # 39; priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. They should serve the sick and prepare the dying for their deaths & # 39 ;., "he wrote.
"Today we are prohibited from doing so, not by an enemy government or a suspicious health service, but by our own church.
"I ask the bishops to reverse this decision before we lose the right to call ourselves the national church again."
Rev. Walker later said on Twitter that he "publicly expressed his concerns" with an incredibly heavy heart.
The bishops in the Dioceses of Chelmsford and London have since issued a common response that conforms to the guidelines.
"Every priest's instinct is to stand by the sick and dying, to say prayers, to accompany people through suffering, and to serve at the time of death," they write.
"However, we priests and chaplains also have a duty to prevent infections and thus save lives.
"In this context, the Church of England bishops fully support the duty of the NHS professional chaplains to serve the sick and dying face to face."
They further point out that the guidance enables volunteer clergymen to provide "unrestricted support" to patient and family members while complying with the social distancing regulations.
The answer goes on: "As things stand, these additional volunteers cannot support face-to-face contact with patients as this would increase the risk of infection spreading inside, inside and outside the hospital.
"However, you can help with pastoral support for patients by video call on the phone or tablet and with the vital role of pastoral care for NHS workers.
"This was discussed with the senior chaplain earlier this week and we will continue to advise our volunteers unless the trust formally requests otherwise.
"The Bishops of Chelmsford and London continue to be in regular contact with and support hospital chaplains in their areas. They are committed to improving the ability to respond pastorally to healthcare and to do everything possible to reduce the spread of infections, to protect the NHS and save lives. "
Tasha Critchlow, deputy pastoral manager at Barts NHS Trust, which deals with Nightingale, told The Times that qualified professional volunteers receive training and personal protective equipment.
David Baker, a pastor in East Sussex, said the instructions for temporary chaplains were "confusing" and "worrying."
"Jesus often showed direct personal compassion for those whom others would not come close to – and as Christians we are called to do the same," he said.