Do I Love the NHS?

Back in the Ulster Hospital yesterday in my role as Chaplain there, and it made me think again about the "good old" NHS that has been recently so badly maligned by US right-wing reactionaries and renegade Tories. Now, as both an employee and a frequent user (both on my own behalf as a Type-2 diabetic, and the parent of a particularly accident-prone child) of the National Health Service, I am more than aware of its short-comings. But I am also personally thankful for and a constant observer of its strengths, and have been getting mightily ticked off by repeated ill-informed criticism from the other side of the Atlantic.

At various times I have also had the opportunity to get a close up look at some of the health provision in different parts of the USA, and there is no doubt that at its best, the provision there IS the best in the world. But after all it IS the richest country in the world (at least for the moment) and yet, despite that, there are an inordinate number of people, particularly those in low paid jobs with no benefits, who have effectively no access to health care, including dentistry.

"Have you seen the state of British teeth?" said one mid-western voice in a vox-pop I was listening to. Now we know that American dentistry is one of the wonders of the modern world, with the average young American woman's smile being capable of being seen from outer space, but there is more to health than bleached white enamel, and anyway, some of the worst dentistry I have ever seen was in some inner city US cities.

In recent visits to two post-industrial American cities the "Health Industry" was being seen as the silver bullet to breathe life back into the local economy, and in both cases investment in hospital facilities has been paying massive dividends, both in terms of the life expectancy of many local citizens, but also employment. However, within the shadow of shiny new hospital blocks in both cities I visited community programs (sic) that were wrestling with the health needs of uninsured employees of companies that were sub-contracted to provide services to these hospitals. The people involved could pick up the waste at the back door of the hospitals, but couldn't go in through the front door. I am sure that no right-thinking person really wants that, so there is no doubt that the US Heath Care System does need reforming. The only people with a vested interest in keeping things as they are are the insurance companies and those who see health care as a money-making industry rather than a basic right.

One of the most interesting pieces I have read on the recent debate suggests that the Obama reforms are less reminiscent of a US NHS as a Swiss system scaled up (whilst pointing out the fact that, contrary to the claim of the Investor's Business Daily in its attacks on Obama's reforms, it was the nasty socialised medical care of the NHS that decided to keep the defective Professor Stephen Hawking alive!) Our own National Health System would not be appropriate in the US as the scale is completely wrong, and comparisons between the two are all unhelpful, whether they be the rabid attacks of the right or the beatification of it by Michael Moore in "Sicko". The NHS itself requires reform, but it should be reform that makes it more responsive to the needs (not the desires, but the needs), of people in the UK rather than seeking to copy the systems of any other country. And that is what needs to happen in the US. Real reform based on the needs of the people in that great nation.

The moral and Biblical imperative for such reform has been written about at length by Jim Wallis and others at Sojourners, but I was interested this morning to come across this piece from a distinctly Wesleyan perspective, and given JW's own clear commitment to social justice in his own time, this is a welcome input.

I didn't join the "We Love our NHS" twitter campaign that was launched in response to US attacks, A) Because I don't twitter, and B) Because my relationship with the NHS is a love/hate affair. But I agree with the sentiments of my friend Mitch Benn in his song on the "Now Show" available here (from 7 mins 56 into the programme) on the BBCs self destructing iPlayer until 30th August.

Fight your own battles don't try to drag us into it
We heard your stories we're here to bring the missing bit
And if you're losing your own argument could just be you're full of sha-na-na-na-na-na-na-na

Ah, yes, ah yes, we love our NHS
Its prone to waste and all over the place
But we love it nonetheless
Ah, yes, ah yes, we dig our NHS
We have the right to moan
But you leave it alone

Once upon a time you might have got away with this
But now there's twitter and the people will have internet justice
And we'll here to catch you make stuff up or just plain take the pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa

Ah, yes, ah yes, we love our NHS
Its bureucratic and sometimes static
But mainly a success
Its a bit of a mess but we love our NHS
We can whinge and cry for hours
'cause its ours.
I suppose that some of my more conservative critics would suggest that all this goes to prove that the title for yesterday's blog is correct and I am to the left of Trotsky...


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