was last edited
22 April 2002
Editor of News Sheet
to the Journal online
News Sheet No 8
Chaplains and the Data
Edward Lewis (Chief Executive & Director of Training of the Hospital Chaplaincies Council of the Church of England) has recently written to all whole timers advising that chaplains are not able to take advantage of the exemption in Schedule 3 of the Data Protection Act 1998, which allows sensitive personal information about patients to be processed without explicit consent, where that processing is necessary for medical purposes. This is because chaplaincy is not deemed to be included in the definition of “medical purposes”. The Information Commissioner takes the view that this definition is not wide enough to include spiritual care.
Chaplains-spiritual care givers are still able to make themselves available to patients on wards, as well as visit wards and departments generally. They should however, respect the wishes of any patient who has previously indicated that they do not wish to be visited by a Chaplain. It is acceptable and desirable for procedures to be put in place that support patients changing their minds from time to time.
A meeting with the Commissioner’s representative also agreed that patients who are brought into hospital unconscious, and are therefore not able to give explicit consent themselves, may be assumed to allow a relative or friend to offer that consent. The Commissioner has made it clear that her advice may be subject to testing in the Courts, and that such situations need to be monitored on a case-by-case basis.
The consequences of this decision are that patients must give explicit consent before information regarding their religion can be passed on to the Chaplaincy Team. Once the patient has given explicit consent to this information being disclosed, it should be passed to the Chaplaincy-Spiritual Care Team as soon as possible.
In England, The Department of Health is likely to issue further guidance about this explicit consent in the New Year and Trusts will probably review their procedures with Chaplaincy Team Leaders.
Trusts will need to ensure that the necessary consent is obtained in an appropriate and sensitive way. Chaplaincy Team Leaders will want to help with the design of necessary questionnaires and leaflets as well as input to training sessions for those interviewing patients for their consent.
During the admissions process, patients should be made aware that the Trust employs Chaplains-Spiritual Care givers, who are highly trained professionals, bound by NHS rules of confidentiality, who will walk along side them during their stay in hospital, at whatever level of involvement best suits the patient.
Chaplaincy Team Leaders may also wish to encourage local Clergy and Faith leaders to make their congregations aware, on a regular basis that this procedure is followed within public services and especially in hospitals. Patients and their carers should be encouraged to ask for their details to be passed on to the Chaplaincy-Spiritual Care Department.
If Trusts fail to set up an adequate system for allowing patients to be asked about their spiritual care whilst in hospital and to register their consent for this information to be passed on, they could themselves be liable under The Human Rights Act 1998, should a patient claim that s/he was denied the right enshrined in Article 9 of the ECHR to manifest his or her religion, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
What the Scottish situation will be is not yet clear, but the matter has been raised with both Chris Levision and John Thomson. One chaplain in England has suggested that as many chaplains as possible affected by this decision should write to the Information Commissioner to say how difficult it is will make the job for some chaplains. Apparently the Information Commissioner has been swayed by people addressing their problems to her in the past.
Cheshire SK9 5AF
You will find Edward Lewis’ letter and other
chaplaincy documents on the Church of England Hospital Chaplaincies