"The National Health Service is the closest thing the English have to a religion, with those who practise in it regarding themselves as a priesthood. This made it quite extraordinarily difficult to reform. For a bunch of laymen, who called themselves the Government, to presume to tell the priesthood that they must change their ways in any respect whatever, was clearly intolerable. And faced with a dispute between their priests and ministers, the public would have no hesitation in taking the part of the priesthood." - Nigel Lawson
We are social creatures. Humans always have been. Our societal institutions are reflections of our cultural sensibilities. Certain institutions are relatively ubiquitous. There may be some nuances between countries but some things are universal. These have no interest me. The mundanity of existence in this vast world we live in are there for all to see and are best left to the analysis of Stand-Up Comedians, whose insights are often of more value than a faculty of teachers and professors.
Some institutions however, are entirely unique. Not only are they unique to the human experience now, but they were unique upon implementation and may be unique when the histories of our time are written centuries from now.
The National Health Service in Great Britain is one of these unique institutions.
There is a worrying trend I am noticing in our society. To often the term "social" is being used as derogatory, derisory or as some political punchline. Yet we are social creatures. We are strongest when we look after our weakest. There is no mileage in survival of the fittest when it comes to humans as individuals, but as societies, bound together through shared ideals and concerns, there most certainly is.
Too often are we told that the only way we can succeed is through individual endeavor. While that is true to a degree, the individual cannot survive without the society it is a part of. It's the society more than their parents that nurtures and educates, that protects and nourishes. (Not that I am diminishing the role of parents, but I am making a wider point.)
"To ask that the government be run like a business is tantamount to asking that the government turn a profit. The problem in a nutshell, is that not everything that is profitable is of social value and not everything of social value is profitable. Reality TV, pornography, fashion, sports, and gambling are all of questionable social value, but each is quite profitable and exists in the private sector. Meanwhile, few would argue that the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, police department, fire department, libraries, parks, and public schools are of no social value, and yet they could not exist if they were required to be profitable." - John T Harvey
The National Health Service in Britain is the only institution I am aware of in the world, that provides the most up to date, expert healthcare, at the point of need, for any citizen who needs it, for free. It is a truly social institution, in its conception at least. It is only 65 years old, yet many still do not fully appreciate how delicate an institution it is and how easily it may be broken for the sake of profit.
Make no mistake, healthcare is profitable. Massively so. In most developed countries it consumes more than 10% of GDP. There are many people, throughout the world, who stand to make a great deal of money from the dismantling of the NHS. From pharmaceuticals to the seamstresses that sew the curtains, our healthcare institution is as tantalising to business as a dying wildebeest is to a committee of vultures. But like the wildebeest, the NHS must die before the feasting can start.
Yet a frontal assault on the service would be political suicide, as even the most conservative of middle-class Britons holds the NHS, among the most treasured features of this land. An institution we can be proud of. So something more subtle is being done.
Our socialist healthcare is being de-socialised. And we are being asked to do it. Alongside stories portraying the NHS as, at best a bumbling incompetent and at worst, intentionally cruel and heartless, there are "debates." For example the debate re smokers and drinkers, or fat people. Or old people. Should we have to pay for those who choose to smoke? Or drink? Or eat too much? Or have the audacity for being old?
Maybe you agree with some of those. Well what about the children of parents with genetic diseases? Why should we pay for their healthcare when their parents knew they might get the same disease they are afflicted with? Surely they should have to pay for it (healthcare, not the child) themselves.
Well if not them, what about the extreme sports enthusiast that makes an error of judgement and smashes into the ground? Or the motorcyclist that hasn't the good sense to drive a car? Or the owner of the trampoline who lands awkwardly?
Or maybe the young people who engage in unsafe sexual practices with multiple partners? Why should we pay for them? Or homosexuals who have unprotected sex?
What about the depressives and the suicidal? They should just get a grip and walk it off anyway, right?
The point is that everyone engages in some activity that is potentially and perceivably risky to someone else. The system of socialised healthcare can only work if it is free for everybody and devoid of judgement. For any group to deny it to any other is unacceptable and so it should be.
The alternative is to allow the exact opposite. Allow private business and insurance companies to dictate who gets what and for what price. You may get excellent healthcare, but not everyone will.
We all get sick. We all will die. But not all of us will be able to afford it. Not under that system. Are we ready to sell ourselves down the river? Just to feel as though somehow we aren't being inconvenienced to look after those whose choices we don't agree with?
As I have said before, I work in the NHS. I am an Emergency Department doctor. The people I work with daily, from the cleaners to chief executives, are employed in an institution which transcends our petty nitpicking. It is a reflection of what we as a group of social creatures, want to do when we are at our best. We want to look after you (and ourselves, of course).
With that in mind I offer you a small prayer for the NHS. I know many reading this are not of a religious persuasion, but it is a secular prayer of thanksgiving, so I don't foresee any dilemma. I'm sure Nigel Lawson didn't mean for this to happen, but who cares what he thinks anyway?
I know that I do not say this enough to you
nor to those who deserve it, but thank you.
Thank you for being there when I am in need.
Thank you for being there when others are in need.
I will try and preserve you always
for you are the best of us incarnate.
May you always strive to improvement
and may we have the conviction to support you.
May your decisions be always wrapped in compassion
and may our trust in you never be tested.
I offer this as an honest plea,
May you look after us forever and ever,
In Aneurin Bevan's name, So be it.
Yours from the priesthood,
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