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05.07.2018

The NHS: ‘A Piece of Real Christianity’

There are two significant dates in July that may at first glance seem unrelated – the 5th is the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service, and the 31st is when I owe my ‘payment on account’ taxes to the Inland Revenue.

The NHS was based on the idea that anyone should be able to access medical care regardless of their financial situation. As it comes to the end of its seventh decade, it can claim to have raised life expectancy across an entire population, eradicated polio and diphtheria, pioneered liver, heart and lung transplants, and made us a society that cares for its most vulnerable. Aneurin Bevan, the Labour Health Minister who did more than anyone else to bring it into being, famously said: ‘I’m proud about the National Health Service. It is a piece of real Socialism. It is a piece of real Christianity too, you know.’

The 31st of July always creeps up on me too fast. Part of my work is freelance and every year I resolve to set aside the portion I owe the government when payment for each project comes in. I’ve never yet done it, so there’s invariably a scramble to find the cash when the deadlines approach. I catch myself feeling resentful, as though my money is being taken from me.

Romans 13:7 says: ‘Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.’ Paying taxes is an intrinsic part of discipleship, not only because it’s a legal requirement, but because in the UK our taxes are used to meet the needs of the sick, the dying, the very young, the elderly, and the disabled – care of whom is a mark of true faith (James 2:14-17).

There is a growing consensus that the NHS is facing a funding crisis, the impact of which many of us will have felt. A survey carried out by the King’s Fund in 2017 found that 60% of respondents supported a tax rise to sustain the health service. What would the percentage be if all those surveyed were Christians?

The 5th of July encourages me to give thanks for the evidence of God’s goodness visible in wider society; the 31st of July allows me to contribute to that. For all of us, tax payers or not, comes the encouragement to seek to show something of ‘real Christianity’ in our everyday lives.

Jo Swinney
Jo is Director of Church Communications for CPO and a writer, editor, and speaker. Her latest book is Home: The Quest to Belong (Hodder). She blogs at joswinney.com.

Comments

  1. Well said Jo. A timely reminder for us to rejoice that paying taxes with gladness is part of how we honour God and love our neighbour.

    By Ruth Murray-Webster - 6th July 2018
  2. Yep, paying my tax is a chance to love my neighbour. So should I try to avoid paying more than necessary? Hmmm.

    By John Hutchison - 6th July 2018
  3. Well written article Jo. The missing link is SOCIAL care. The NHS was set up to care from cradle to grave. How many people realise (or remember if they knew) that social care was made separate from health care in 1990? Since then, the support given to people whose needs are not considered health related has been progressively withdrawn. Please don’t forget the crisis in social care even as we celebrate the 70th birthday of the NHS. That needs funding too.

    By Jill - 6th July 2018
  4. Thank you for this. I agree that the NHS is practical Christianity at work and an inspiration how to love our neighbour, particularly the vulnerable. Where I have some reservations with the article is the rose tinted view of how taxes are used. Setting aside the issues of waste there are a number of things our taxes are used for that as a Christian I do not support.

    By Colin Cox - 6th July 2018
  5. Thank you. Really good piece. A reminder that we can contribute in many ways.

    By Justin - 6th July 2018
  6. What an insightful and timely message. Now it’s up to each of us to ask the Lord what our specific response is to be.
    Thank you, Jo.

    By Lis Harries - 6th July 2018
  7. Well said.

    By Jenny Scott-Thompson - 6th July 2018
  8. The title, ‘The NHS: ‘a piece of real Christianity’’ concerns me as does a lot of the idealistic presentations of the last few weeks. I wish that Christians would be more balanced in their view of the NHS. Listening to a lot of the information re the celebration of the NHS one would think it was perfect. Have we forgotten the Mid Staffordshire disaster, Bristol Royal Infirmary and the heart surgery cases, Morecombe Bay and the death of babies, deaths at Southern Health and the Justice for Laughing Boy (Connor Sparrowhawk) campaign, the breast surgeon Patterson and the unnecessary mutilation of women. And of course, what about The Gosport Review which only came out a couple of weeks ago, detailing where hundreds of people died when they shouldn’t have done. There are of course many other examples of inadequate and destructive practice.
    Sadly, I don’t hear any church leader making any comment about this, or hear any prayers for those affected. There just seems to be a deafening silence.
    A courageous exception of course is Rev James Jones who chaired the Gosport review and also the Hillsborough independent inquiry. We need more Christians like him who are willing to challenge unacceptable behaviour and practice in the NHS.

    By Dr Rachael Pope - 6th July 2018
  9. I so agree with what Dr Rachael Pope has written. Where are the Christians willing to give the time, energy and expertise – and to face probably the critical comments from those who believe that Christians shouldn’t get involved in social action/social justice, etc – to enter into battles against inhumanity, injustice and falsehood?

    Jean Watson

    By Jean Watson - 6th July 2018
  10. Real chrsitianity is not surprised that we are flawed – in fact, it faces is down, accepts responsibility and extends grace. To err is human, to forgive divine – GK Gesterton, I think. And we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

    By Robert Nettleton - 6th July 2018
  11. It is amazing that when you are ill, especially needing sudden medical intervention, that you can visit a doctor or ring for an ambulance without the crippling worry of paying medical bills. It is easy to highlight the inadequacies of any any organisation without encouraging and supporting all that it going well. So many people are working so hard within the NHS. Do we want them to lose heart?

    I have only been paying taxes for about seven years as I earned too little and spent many years based at home with my children. I am relieved to be a tax payer and very proud. Strange lady!!

    By Karen Lowe - 6th July 2018
  12. As Christian I find Rachel Popes attitude rather sad. Of course there are many things wrong in such a vast organisation but to concentrate on the negatives rather than the hundreds of thousands of lives saved and the dedication of the vast majority of those who work in the NHS does it an injustice. Concentrate on the good things and pray for improvement in the bad areas.

    By George Davis - 6th July 2018
  13. We set up a regular weekly prayer meeting within our hospitals in January of this year.
    Since doing so we have seen answer to prayer in a dramatic way. God is so great and ultimately in control.

    1. Our A and E remained open at Telford despite announcements it would close in the absence of a consultant.
    2. Government gave three hundred and eleven million towards funding a new build after we asked for money to be injected into the service to meet plans for future fit programme within days!
    3. Prayer for a new cardiac Cath lab. Box now ticked and gone out to tender we are having a new lab.
    4. Prayer for staff to fill vacancies. Staff filled those vacancies.
    5. Other prayer for healing answered.

    We have written and left in the chapel the following prayer and have shared on social media.

    We are now meeting twice weekly for two thirty minute prayer slots.

    A prayer for the NHS, as it celebrates its 70th anniversary.

    Lord God, we thank you for our NHS

    We thank you for Shrewsbury and Telford and all the staff who work here.

    May this be a fruitful place.

    We trust in your wisdom as we all seek hard to make it secure, safe, comforting and prosperous.

    May good practice, the safest and kindest care, be the cornerstone of everything done here.

    Come and reveal new opening and areas for expansion and development. We particularly bring before the changes that are needed now and for the future in future fit programme.

    May the hospitals grow and flourish, creating great opportunity and provision for all those involved.

    Lord you have entrusted us as stewards of your creation please guide our hearts as we make decisions.

    We seek you first in all we do together.

    We give you our NHS, Princess Royal and Royal Shrewsbury hospitals, our suppliers, our patients and our staff. May we always be mindful of their service.

    We confess that we are nothing without you, and our trust is in you completely.

    In Jesus Precious Name. Amen.

    By Andrea Ellis - 6th July 2018
  14. I worked abroad for nearly 30 years, where there is no NHS. While employed the government had made it compulsory for all employees to have health insurance under company policies, to which the employer had to pay half the premium, the rest coming from our wages. When we visited the GP we had to pay the first $20 of the bill under a co-pay system, I understand that is now $55 per visit. What happened when you stopped working or became seriously ill always bothered me, so when I retired and I returned to the UK, as I had kept up my NI contributions I can enjoy the benefits of our wonderful NHS. We are so blessed to have it, and should do everything we can to support it in whatever way is necessary. Yes I will happily pay a bit more tax if it helps do that.

    By Gail - 7th July 2018
  15. Anyone who has had any prolonged dealings with the NHS while suffering from a serious, life-threatening condition, will have experienced the whole gamut of appalling chaos and incompetence coupled with often outstanding healthcare. But the many excuses trotted out by too many who are as apathetic about worldly issues as they are about their Christianity fail to answer a myriad of questions, such as why we allow ‘health tourism’ (figures – for 2013/14 – showed the UK claimed back only £50.3 million from other European countries for healthcare claimed by their nationals in this country compared with the £750 million we handed over to the EU to pay for treatment for Britons abroad), while David Cameron (with the apparent approval of all the major UK parties) signed away 0.7 per cent of UK national income (~£12 billion per year out of the £23 billion provided by the whole of the EU (which has now risen to £14 billion – another reason I voted for Brexit) while a EU survey admitted at least £9-10 billion was proven to be wasted, stolen, or used to support terrorism. But we can sleep soundly in our beds knowing that some, obviously, went to good causes – such as reducing flatulence in Colombian cattle, while at least £4 million helped create an Ethiopian version of the Spice Girls, and some £25 million funded a project that involved teaming up meteorologists with Kenyan ‘rain-makers’ who predict the weather by watching the movement of ants and measuring the wind using the tops of earthenware bottles. Priceless indeed! Considering the fact that the UK are now £1.8 trillion in debt (i.e. bankrupt) it is surely obvious to many that reclaiming this stealth tax is the first move you make before considering taxing our already over-taxed population further?

    By David Melchiz - 7th July 2018
  16. As one who has benefited enormously from the NHS over the years, and as a retired tax collector, I found my head nodding as I read this article. I am one of those who believe the British public are willing to pay more to secure the future of NHS funding, but in part that was what NI contributions were for and they all go into one pot the Government can put to whatever use it will. A ring-fenced, predicated tax to fund just the NHS and Social Care, so that we can all be sure the money is going where it should be, would go a long way to assuring us of the services we need.

    By Paul F - 8th July 2018
  17. Protecting the vulnerable, ensuring safety, compassion, kindness and respect for both staff and patients is part of ‘real Christianity’. Ill-treatment, abuses, unnecessary deaths, covering up and hiding failures and the intimidation of staff, particularly whistleblowers, is not.
    Julie Bailey whose mother died after being ill-treated in Mid-Staffordshire hospital writes that the NHS has become a “…dangerous Sacred Cow, above criticism for many despite its obvious failings” and that the NHS appears to be “…pathologically unable to improve”.
    The unquestioning, uncritical idealisation of the NHS institution/system, and the reluctance to recognise and acknowledge failure is not helpful. It actually prevents learning and improvement.
    I recommend Radio 4’s National Health Stories: Scandal (2 July 2018). https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b86qzs
    It describes the campaign by Barbara Robb to raise awareness of the appalling ill-treatment of mental health patients and the elderly, in the long stay NHS institutions of the 1960/70s.
    I also recommend reading “Justice for Laughing Boy”. Connor Sparrowhawk died in 2013 in an NHS Southern Health learning disability unit. Dr Sara Ryan describes the death of her son as “A death by indifference”. “We now knew we had left Connor in a shitty unit, which turned out to be even shittier than we imagined. The report read like an inspection of a Victorian asylum; from no engagement with patients to medicines out of date and not stored properly, to faeces on furniture”. Some of the emergency equipment wasn’t working and the oxygen cylinder had expired. Also, “Basic humanity, decency and sense were bafflingly absent in the responses to the family from health and social care professionals”. This was definitely not ‘a piece of real Christianity’.

    By Rachael Pope - 8th July 2018

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