We Love The NHS

I may have been critical of our current Labour Government again on Wednesday, but I am generally supportive of them when it comes to the NHS. Some of the recent attacks from the States (and even here) look dumb in the extreme. Can we just remind the Investor’s Business Daily that Stephen Hawking is both British and alive, for example? (Even the corrected version of the article, to which I have just linked, doesn’t fully correct all the facts and still leaves room for doubt about the role of the NHS with respect to the brilliant scientist’s health.) And as for the views of Conservative MEPs Daniel Hannan and Roger Helmer that we should abolish it because 80% of Americans get better health care, well hang on: for all the faults of the NHS (and I’ll come to some of them), a Christian has to remember not just the 80% but the 20% – that is, the poor. Oh, and twice as much GDP is spent on health care in the US than here. Who is going to campaign to double our spending, even on top of the rises under the current administration?

So it’s not surprising that Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister who ‘got down wiv da kids’ by making policy announcements on YouTube, has now sent a message of support to the Twitter campaign #welovethenhs. Of course it’s political that he does so, but – hey – I actually agree with him here. (Just as I do on his concern for the welfare of the poorest nations in the world.)

Why? For theological reasons. We are our brother’s and sister’s keepers. That has to be seen corporately. I have had it argued to me in the past by conservative American Christians that it is the sole preserve of the church to offer healthcare and healing to society. Yeah, right. Because that is going to cover everyone, isn’t it?

Less cynically, although I come from the Arminian theological tradition and am therefore meant to view almost everything John Calvin said with suspicion, I find value in his concept of ‘common grace’ – that the sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous, as Jesus said. Surely health and healing would be among such common blessings.

Personally, I have benefitted from the NHS. Most recently in major terms, it was the nasal surgery I had in May (a septoplasty and submucus resection, for those who like the medical swearwords). That surgery corrected a lifetime’s breathing problem. Nobody questioned me about the level of my medical cover, or whether my premiums were paid. I was simply treated. Then, a week ago, on the night before going away on holiday, I began to suffer pain in the right rib area. A phone call to NHS Direct led to advice that I should attend our nearest Accident and Emergency unit at a nearby hospital. They soon reassured me I didn’t have the feared spontaneous pneumothorax (OK, I’m showing off, that’s a collapsed lung) but had something close to a torn abdominal muscle. Triage, chest x-ray, time with a doctor, all without question, through until 2 am from dedicated professionals. Then away on holiday the next morning. First class.

No, it isn’t perfect, and I have some issues with it. The ‘postcode lottery’ is a common concern. For the uninitiated, this refers to differing policies in different areas, resulting in some people being eligible for treatment in their location but others in another area not being, perhaps due to age or general priorities.

Then there are issues of the budget being used up for causes that give me moral problems. The widespread use of abortion is the obvious one. Some uses of cosmetic surgery might be another. I could easily add othercontentious treatments to this list, and I apologise for just brief comments – however, the purpose of this paragraph is not to go into fine detail, but simply to mark up the fact that I have concerns about several significant areas.

But let’s get it straight. Supporting the NHS does not make you a Marxist, so let’s ditch that bit of ignorant propaganda that seeks to label people rather than engage with the issues. That kind of nonsense makes it sound like McCarthyism is back from the dead. Most Christians in the UK of various political and theological persuasions would concur that being in general favour of the NHS (whatever particular quibbles we have) is thoroughly consistent with Christian principles.


  1. Dave, you are hilarious! “medical swearwords”! I’ve always wanted to know the reasoning behind using jargon when there are perfectly normal words readily available.

    I’m not sure how many American readers you have, but I daresay you may take some heat – after living there 14 years, I discovered that not many of them are fond of the idea of “socialized medicine” (as they call it), and many will defend privatization vigorously. But as you mentioned, this does tend to leave out the poor. My argument for it was simply this….

    If more people can go to a clinic for a cold or other minor ailment that’s easily treated, there will be many fewer going to Emergency at the hospital. We saw many poor doing just that…..after having a bad cold for several days, they would end up in the Emergency ward at the hospital for relief. The majority of the hospitals in the US are legally obligated to treat those who come into ER. The clinics cost an awful lot less to operate (but of course, one must have insurance to go there)…..the hospital would often never get paid by the patient for the visit, thus adding more burden.

    And I know firsthand that for most of the years that I lived and worked in the US, I could not afford medical coverage – when you only bring home a certain amount in a month, unfortunately medical insurance becomes expendable. Now, the state we lived in covered children up to a certain age for “general”, but adults still had to buy insurance. So when my wife or myself got really sick, there were times when we had to go to ER, and usually couldn’t pay all the bill, either.

    And I would dispute the claim that “80% of Americans get better health care” made by the two conservatives you mentioned……that was certainly not what I saw. And I am in full agreement with you – Jesus made it very clear that the poor are a priority.


    1. I don’t want to comment too much on the American system, but just as Americans can trade in horror stories about the NHS, I can about US health care. I think of the tragedy when the singer Mark Heard (there we go, speaking about music again) died of a heart attack at the age of 41. Not only was it terrible to lose him so long, his widow Janet was left with years of paying off debts for his medical treatment.


  2. I have often heard it said that the fact that in the States they spend a higher proportion of GDP on heathcare is a positive virtue of their system. I ask myself if it is rather the horrendous consequence of the system. Do they get double the level of care perhead than we do – in terms of quality and quantity? Does the insurance system rather act to drive up costs rather than keep them under control? How much of that double quantity is nice profit lining pockets rather than being spent either on actual healthcare or other things the good citizens would spend their money on if they wern’t terrified of being ill without enough cover. I don’t know the answers to all this, and they could be revealing. I am very suspicious, especially when the likes of Sarah Palin are reported as describing the NHS as “evil”.


    1. Hi Colin,

      No, as I said to Owen above, I don’t know all the details of the American system. But one thing is for sure: the NHS may have many imperfections, but one thing you can’t call it is ‘evil’ – not with any intelligence, anyway.


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