The Ven John Barton writes in praise of our health service.
“Save the NHS” was the slogan chosen by the British government when the coronavirus began to spread. Meant to evoke public compassion, and compliance with emergency regulations, it sounded as though the NHS was an endangered species. In fact it was the public themselves whose lives were in jeopardy; the National Health Service existed solely for their benefit. The slogan did manage to stir gratitude for a service which had been taken for granted, as well as appreciation of its 1.5+ million staff, many of whom were now putting their own lives at greater risk.
The idea for a countrywide medical service came from the Beveridge Report, instigated by the coalition government during World War II. “Medical treatment covering all requirements will be provided for all citizens by a national health service”, is how it was defined, though it had to wait until 1948 for its implementation to begin.
It was part of a programme for reconstruction, aiming to eliminate Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Sir William Beveridge, who gave his name to the report, was close friends with two other social reformers: R H Tawney, and William Temple, who was to become Archbishop of Canterbury. Today’s Archbishop, Justin Welby, wrote this about the trio: “Drawing on Christian understandings of justice, generosity and human dignity, they described the kind of country that they felt reflected God’s values better.”
St Paul couldn’t have thought he was providing a slogan for a welfare state when he wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”, but that is a neat summary of the way the National Health Service works. We all pay in when we can and we all benefit when we need.
One estimate of the cost of the NHS today is £158.4 billion, which in real terms is 10 times as much as in 1950. In the meantime, it’s no longer completely free for all. Prescription charges and dental fees have been introduced. The development of ever-more sophisticated life-saving drugs and medical procedures will inevitably mean higher costs – and a heightened moral dilemma. Must there be further limits to the provision of “medical treatment covering all requirements”?
The colossal task of rebuilding a shattered economy in the years to come may compel the British people to choose between what is essential and what is optional. The Christian principle now sounds particularly demanding: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”.
Source : Parish Pump