The following reflection was delivered on 8th. July 2018
in Airdrie: New Monkland l/w Airdrie: Greengairs
in grateful celebration of the 70th. anniversary
of the establishment of the National Health Service
If you wanted to tell a story about Britain since the Second World War, or if you were going to give an account of core British values, the National Health Service would, most likely, be your starting place. Last week provided an opportunity to pause and learn more about the history of the institution that, probably, makes us most proud to be British. Aneurin Bevan, the founder of the NHS, once stated: “Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune, the cost of which should be shared by the community.”
For Christians there’s a very strong biblical mandate for all this with the collection of healing stories in the Bible and, particularly, the Gospels.
Last Thursday, 5th July, was the 70th anniversary of the founding of the National Health Service. This was, of course, a wonderful opportunity to thank NHS staff and volunteers for their tremendous work caring for patients, especially in particularly tough times for the NHS.
You might remember back in 2012, the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics was called “For Everyone”, I remember we spoke about it at the time, and about how it gave an account of the United Kingdom to the world of which we were proud. We probably all remember the NHS being centre stage with 800 health care professionals dancing.
We are especially proud of the NHS because its people and the quality of its care are excellent and because its principles, priorities and values reflect the best of how we want to live.
The NHS exists to;
1. Meet the needs of everyone;
2. Be free at the point of delivery;
3. And be based on clinical need,
not ability to pay.
The NHS does this through the six C’s of: Care, Compassion, Competence,
Communication, Courage and Commitment.
Hospitals are places of care, care of individuals but also organised care for the whole community – everyone is treated equally without discrimination simply according to their needs.
This 70th. birthday is a great opportunity to highlight the fact that public support for the founding principles of the NHS remains unshaken. But it’s also an opportunity for a national conversation about how the NHS needs to change now that, as a nation, we are facing a very different set of challenges to when the NHS was set up in 1948. The NHS is a massive national enterprise that swallows enormous quantities of money, employs thousands of people and provides the source of endless stories of human living and dying in every community.
The Christian Gospel began at an empty tomb and from its earliest times Christians had a reputation for caring for life. In the early Church the ministry of healing was reflected in the care of all people, not just of Christians – and there is a connection between physical health and our inner wellbeing, exactly what we find it hard to describe, but most of us know the intimate connection between healing and wholeness. It’s the specialism of Hospital Chaplains and their presence reminds us about the spirituality of health and how there is more to life than meets the eye and a good spirit aids healing.
Looking back at the NHS over 70 years is both an immensely personal and corporate exercise, because we all have NHS stories to tell and we know there is much to give grateful thanks for. Yet today, we expect far more of our health care than our parents did simply because we live longer, on average fourteen years longer than in 1948, and one-in-three girls born today will live to be one hundred years old - and we know medicine promises almost endless possibilities. Our scientists continue to make rapid progress which is having a massive impact on medical outcomes. But there are problems of cost and of whether the availability of care is universal and limitless. Some of the biggest opportunities are now in Public Health, in making a good environment in which to live and having an understanding about healthy food and physical exercise – so there are major gains to be made in the way we live.
The serpent is the symbol of medicine because, back in the wilderness, on the journey of the exodus from slavery to freedom in the Promised Land, the people lost heart, became impatient and spoke against God and Moses. We’re told that, as a punishment God sent poisonous snakes among them and many people died.
In order to turn their hearts and heal them Moses raised a bronze serpent on a pole, the sight of which cured the people of their sickness. It was a way of turning people back to God, healing their hearts and minds by facing them in the right direction.
In the New Testament this became a way of understanding Christ raised on the cross turning people away from violence and hate towards love and healing for all people.
For our politicians and health service managers today there are very difficult choices to be made about priorities, particularly in an age of such prolonged austerity. The people in the wilderness murmured against God and Moses... a bit like the murmuring we do against the First Minister and the Cabinet Secretary for Health for not taking us straight to the Promised Land! So it helps enormously when it’s clear that there is a real understanding and a true willingness to take responsibility for political decisions about health care - and be judged by the same values as the people who deliver such an extraordinary service on the front line.
So, today, we give grateful thanks for the NHS, which, perhaps exclusively in these tumultuous times, truly priorities the wellbeing of the people. In our prayers we will bring it lovingly before God asking for the continued healing and wellbeing which represents the best of what it is to be human and to care for all our good. The NHS still provides exceptional value for money - and the model is very well regarded by other countries;
It should, then, with good faith and good spirit be possible for the UK, as the fifth wealthiest nation in the world, to continue to maintain this service and the wellbeing of those who work in it. I pray that, along with the cake and tea parties and awards, the lasting legacy of this 70th anniversary will be an increased understanding of our NHS and how we can both protect it and support it to change.
God bless the NHS and all who serve in it.
Creator God, who knits each person together in their mother’s womb, it is You who reveals knowledge to scientists, researchers doctors and nurses... and we thank You for the heritage of medical breakthrough, expertise and welfare we enjoy in our National Health Service.
Freely available to us because of Your revelation, and the faithfulness of previous generations - renew thanksgiving in our hearts for what we have received because of others’ work and sacrifice.
Healer of nations, You provide insight to all who seek You, and defend those in need. We thank You for the gift of the NHS in our nation, freely available to everyone no matter their background, income level or need. Give Your wisdom to our government, health professionals, and advisers as they seek the right reforms. We pray Your blessing on our NHS, may it thrive and prosper. We pray Your blessing on our doctors and nurses, and every discipline represented in the NHS to care, to excel, and to bring healing.
We ask Your blessing on our nation to understand, to thank, and to honour those who seek to bring us health, for everything that is good comes from You.
In the name of Jesus the healer, we pray.