Church win on access to hospital chaplains
There has been a breakthrough in patient privacy laws, with the NSW Health Department now enabling hospitals to give access to information to chaplains, although not all hospitals are implementing it.
The Catholic Weekly reports that the introduction of the NSW Health privacy manual published by the NSW Department of Health in July last year has had a major impact on the provision of chaplaincy services, in particular Catholic chaplaincy services in NSW public hospitals.
Fr John Usher, chancellor of the Sydney archdiocese, told the Weekly that privacy laws have been regulated by the NSW Parliament which means that chaplains visiting many public hospitals "are prevented from accessing information to determine which patients are Catholics".
"This has prevented chaplains of all denominations from adequately carrying out their role in NSW public hospitals," he said. "However, it has particularly impacted on Catholic chaplains where Catholic patients wanted to be visited by a chaplain or a member of the chaplaincy team and receive the sacraments.
"Because chaplains didn't have access to who was or wasn't a Catholic, which was determined by the privacy laws where hospitals felt they weren't able to disclose this information, they weren't adequately able to minister to the patients.
"It meant that they needed to go into hospital wards and ask people, but they were even prohibited from doing that because it was a breach of privacy just to ask the question and people could easily take offence."
The Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Church have been lobbying the State Government since the laws came into place.
However, Fr Usher says there has been a breakthrough. In December, the Health Department wrote to all hospitals in a circular providing for health services "to consider access to chaplaincy services across the continuum of care and ensure appropriate services are available".
It also emphasised that "co-operation and religious tolerance should be promoted and encouraged to ensure the needs of our diverse community are met."
The circular provides a space for patients to tick a box advising whether or not they want their religion withheld from the chaplaincy services.
However, Fr Usher says that not all hospitals are using this format at admission time.
Church win on access to hospital chaplains (Catholic Weekly 18/9/05)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Sydney - Chaplains
NSW Govt "backflip" on hospital chaplaincies (CathNews 11/2/05)
ACU report clarifies role of hospital chaplains (CathNews 27/6/05)
Catholic patients "denied access" to chaplains (CathNews 26/11/04)
New scheme to protect aged care accommodation bonds (Hon Julie Bishop MP, Minister for Ageing 15/9/05)
16 Sep 2005