A Health Service
With a UK General Election just one week away, I’ve been encouraged by the level of appreciation for the National Health Service, first launched in the summer of 1948. It strikes me as a mark of a civilised and compassionate society that values the cradle-to-grave care of all of its citizens, knowing that in doing so, the financial burden must be shared. But what do we do when this much loved institution is in crisis? Is it exclusively a political matter that will be resolved if we make the ‘right’ choice at the ballot box next week?
It is my fervent hope that our votes will support the continuation of our universal free healthcare system, but this can only be part of the response to the crisis alluded to above. My affection for the NHS is at odds with my views on how we ‘do health’. Our medical care responds exceptionally well to acute conditions and emergencies, however, as a nation, we don’t prioritise health, but rather wait for disease and chronic conditions to take hold and then put all our hopes in expensive pharmaceuticals and even surgical interventions, both of which make additional demands on the human body. This is a collective response borne out of years of conditioning that we go to the Doctor or the hospital to get ‘fixed’ once illness has appeared. And chronic illness of one sort or another is becoming the norm. This cannot be sustained financially, and as individuals life is generally harder, sometimes much harder, if we’re not in good health; do we even remember what really good health feels like? I hope I live to see the day when the NHS really becomes a health service, rather than just a response to sickness, a national sickness service where the main beneficiaries are companies that sell their pharmaceutical products to hospitals, GP surgeries and chemists. But I think I’m in for a long wait; transforming a body as large as the NHS will be a massive undertaking, made all the more challenging by the widespread lack of knowledge and understanding about health. Seriously. We, including the medical profession, may understand illness, but we don’t have a good grasp on health. So do we wait and hope that this will change, or is there more that each of us can do? Of course there is, and each step towards better health is a personal success story with the potential side-effect of also easing the burden on the health service that we value so highly.
I’m tempted to make a list of practical suggestions about how we might go about achieving greater wellness, but we already have this information. There are multiple reasons why pro-health recommendations are not working (self blame here is neither useful nor relevant; the picture is very much bigger), so my somewhat unconventional suggestion is to imagine what perfect health feels like and really want it! The next step may be more challenging, but challenging doesn't mean impossible: believe it can be done and go in search of books, websites, people, TV programmes, articles and any other source that will support your quest. You’ll find them, in fact they may come to you: belief changes don’t always come easily, but they are mini revolutions which trigger some wonderful surprises.
I may have major reservations about the health emphasis of our NHS, but I wholeheartedly share the sentiment made by its very existence: that each one of us matters enough to be helped towards wellness, or cared for when that is what is needed most. We all matter, and we each deserve the best health that is possible for us; how wonderful if we can believe that and seek it for ourselves.