THE NHS AT 70
A Sermon preached at Fordingbridge and Sandleheath Churches on Trinity 6, July 8th, 2018, by Canon Gary Philbrick.
Ps. 48, II Cor 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13
Lord God, take my words and speak through them,
take our minds and think through them,
take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.
I, along with Nicky and Rachel, had the wonderful privilege of attending the Celebration Service for the 70th Anniversary of the National Health Service in our Cathedral at Winchester on Thursday. The Cathedral was almost full, the Service had been wonderfully crafted, and there was a number of highlights.
Before the Service, a Filipino Choir from Southampton General Hospital sang, and that was great. Another choir, the Basingstoke Hospital Male Voice Choir sang an extremely moving version of the old revivalist hymn, ‘When the storms of life are raging, stand by me’. And the Cathedral Choir sang wonderful anthems by Vaughan Williams and Elgar.
The preacher was the new Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, known to many locally from her time as Canon Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral, before becoming one of the first women Bishops in the Church of England, as Bishop Suffragan of Crediton. Before that, though, she was the Chief Nursing Officer for England, the most senior advisor on nursing matters to the Government – amazingly, it was during her time in this post that she trained part-time for ordination and served as a Self Supporting Minister. Her sermon included praise for all those from overseas who have come here to work in the National Health Service. And she reflected on compassion, which I’ll come back to later.
But the real highlights of the Service were the Testimonials given by two NHS workers. One spoke of her mother, who completed her training in 1948 and started work for the new NHS, and how she, the daughter, had followed in her footsteps. And the other, amazingly, had been working for the NHS for 55 years, always in what started out as Casualty, and is now A & E, and she’s still working at Southampton General – she didn’t look old enough to have been working for that long, but she did tell us that her mother is 104, and still fit as a fiddle.
These personal stories of those with long connections with the NHS made me reflect on a number of things, starting with the fact that I’d never really thought about the fact that I was born when the NHS was less than ten years old. Nowadays, ten years goes by in a flash, but then, it seemed to me as a child, that the Health Service had just always been there.
Which made me wonder whether anyone has memories of what it was like before the Health Service was formed? [Any thoughts?]
It was just after the trauma of the Second World War that the Health Service was founded; there was still rationing, and bombed out houses, and people still suffering from the war. And, of course, the National Health Service was founded against the wishes of a large majority of doctors throughout the country, who, for a variety of reasons, some good, some selfish, didn’t think it was a good idea.
It was an act of enormous political courage, to go against the wishes of such an influential group of people, and many who weren’t doctors, to stand up for the principal that, just as education should be open to all, regardless of wealth or social status – a battle that was won in the late nineteenth century – so should health care be available to all, based on need, and free at the point of contact.
Many of those who fought for a National Health Service did so out of their Christian convictions; alongside many who were not coming at the project from a faith perspective. But, whatever the motivation, it was a deeply Christian concept, drawn from the historic traditions of the country, the traditions of health care provided by the Church over many centuries. And, of course, going back to Jesus’ own ministry, as we heard at the end of our Gospel Reading this morning, when he sends out the Twelve to cast out demons – what we might now call mental health – and anoint with oil and cure the sick.
It’s worth reflecting on the links between the words we use in this area: hospital and hospice, both linked with words such as hospitality and hotel, and all deriving from the Latin word, hospes, which means both host and guest. Interestingly, host has developed to mean just the one providing hospitality, but the original Latin, hospes, meaning both host and guest, recognised that you can’t be a host without someone to host, and you can’t be a guest without a host – they are both relational terms.
The NHS Values are Christian values – and, of course, they are shared by much wider faith and non-faith communities. We heard them in the Service on Thursday.
The NHS values are:
- Working together for patients.
- Respect and dignity.
- Commitment to quality of care.
- Improving lives.
- Everyone counts.
They are a magnificent set of values, aspired to by the great majority of the 1½m employees of the Health Service.
Now, there are problems, of course. As we all age and have greater health needs, we put the NHS under greater strain; more and more effective treatments are discovered, which inevitably cost more; many of us would have died of illnesses in the past which are curable now – and we have some of those in the congregation this morning. There are the difficulties of recruiting and retaining enough staff, especially while a number of European nurses and others wonder about their status here after March next year.
And there are failures or care – such as those we have been reading about at Gosport Hospital recently.
But, as the Bishop of London said in her address on Thursday, ‘The National Health Service was born out of a vision of healthcare available to all, regardless of wealth or status. Born out of a belief in something called the Common Good’.
She went on to reflect on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, with its question at the end, ‘Who is your neighbour?’ And she said, ‘Ask any nurse on any ward in this country this question and I am pretty sure of the answer you’d get: the patients they tend and care for. The NHS embodies this Gospel vision of compassion for all, regardless of age or race or religion’.
And she ended by saying, ‘We are here today to give thanks to God for our NHS and to pledge ourselves anew to make it the best we can. To ensure it serves all who need it with humanity and dignity and compassion. In the coming months and years there will be more pressures upon it. More change. More difficult decisions. We pray today for those making those decisions that they might be true to the vision of the Common Good which inspired the creation of the NHS seven decades ago’.
I thought we’d have a few moments for reflection on our own experience of the Health Service, both good and bad; to think of those who staff the NHS, and to pray for its future, and then I’ll read a poem.[Silence]
These are the Hands
for the 60th anniversary of the NHS
These are the hands
That touch us first
Feel your head
Find the pulse
And make your bed.
These are the hands
That tap your back
Test the skin
Hold your arm
Wheel the bin
Change the bulb
Fix the drip
Pour the jug
Replace your hip.
These are the hands
That fill the bath
Mop the floor
Flick the switch
Soothe the sore
Burn the swabs
Give us a jab
Throw out sharps
Design the lab.
And these are the hands
That stop the leaks
Empty the pan
Wipe the pipes
Carry the can
Clamp the veins
Make the cast
Log the dose
And touch us last.
© Michael Rosen, reproduced by permission of United Agents (www.unitedagents.co.uk) on behalf of the author