Why GPs Refer to Chaplaincy

A Qualitative Study


  • Sarah Giffen Regent Gardens Medical Practice
  • Eileen Cowey University of Glasgow




Spirituality, Chaplaincy, Spiritual care, Religious care, Referral and Consultation, Primary Health Care, General Practice, General Practitioners


Background: Chaplaincy intervention in primary care is an emerging provision; little is known about what causes a General Practitioner (GP) to refer a patient. Aim: To discover why GPs refer to chaplaincy in primary care contexts, to understand referral processes, investigate alternative referral routes, and explore how cues relate to previously reported socio-economic health issues. Design and Setting: A qualitative descriptive study in one urban Scottish general practice. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of GPs. Data were analysed, to the point of saturation, using thematic content analysis. Findings: Nine GPs participated. Appreciation of whole-person spiritual care and good access predisposed GPs to refer to chaplaincy. Referral followed a series of steps precipitated by identification of issues: mental health issues, bereavement, spiritual and relationship issues, and isolation. Doctors gauged the need for referrals subjectively. Sharing management with patients was routine, suggesting active participation. Female patients were referred more frequently than male patients. Conclusion: Referrals were made on a person-centred basis. An apparent barrier of male gender and subjectivity in assessment before referring merit further investigation. We suggest that a model representing the referral process demonstrates good practice and may stimulate discussion about GP referral to chaplaincy.

Author Biographies

  • Sarah Giffen, Regent Gardens Medical Practice

    Sarah Giffen is principle chaplain at Regent Gardens Medical Practice, north of Glasgow, and an advisor to the Association of Chaplains in General Practice (ACGP).

  • Eileen Cowey, University of Glasgow

    Eileen Cowey is Senior Lecturer/Programme Director, MSc (Med Sci) Advanced Practice/MSc Advanced Nursing Science, Nursing & Health Care School.


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How to Cite

Giffen, S., & Cowey, E. (2020). Why GPs Refer to Chaplaincy: A Qualitative Study. Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, 8(1), 5-25. https://doi.org/10.1558/hscc.40236