Good old NHS

9 November 2010

For overseas readers, the NHS is the British National Health Service. It guarantees free health-care to all British citizens. And it’s marvellous!

True, some have to pay a token amount towards their medication, but the elderly, the needy and other vulnerable groups pay nothing. If you need an operation, it’s free. Consultations with top-notch medical specialists cost you not a penny.

nhs logoI’ve travelled in many parts of the world where medical care is simply unavailable, or of desperately poor quality, or comes at such a high price that only the richest can afford it. Compared with all these options the NHS is an unmitigated blessing.

Over a decade ago I developed an irregular heartbeat. ‘An electrical glitch,’ the cardiac specialist concluded after I’d undergone various tests at the local NHS hospital. They put me on medication to control it, and I’ll be on it for the rest of my life. So every three months I pick up a prescription from my doctor’s surgery, take it to the local pharmacy and pick up my pills. And because I’m over 60, it’s all for free.

More recently I realised my hearing was deteriorating and needed to do something about it. Within weeks I had a consultation with an expert audiologist and two weeks later became the wearer of a high-quality digital hearing aid behind each ear. These cost me nothing and they have made the world of difference. When I’m running out of batteries I drop in with my record-book at the local audiology centre and pick up a new supply, all for free.

So I often exclaim, ‘Thank you, Lord, for the NHS!’ Can you blame me?

I’m immensely grateful that I don’t live in one of the world’s poorer countries where such service would be unimaginable. Some years ago, in Zambia, I overheard a British visitor talking to a Zambian national about hospitals. ‘I can’t stand hospital food!’ she complained. To which the Zambian replied, ‘You mean they feed you in hospital in your country?’ Yes, if you find yourself in the local hospital in her town in Zambia your relatives have to come in with food for you, otherwise you get nothing.

But it’s the Americans who puzzle me the most. President Obama has been working hard to push through a programme of medical care that would guarantee provision to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Good for him, I say! Yet strident voices condemn him outright for it. Most puzzling of all, so-called Christian voices denounce him as an instrument of Satan, or as the Antichrist himself, for even daring to think up such an idea! Surely to make provision for the needy is Christian in every sense? I just don’t get it.

Maybe someday I’ll grasp what the Evangelical Right in the US is all about. In the meantime I’ll continue to be grateful that I don’t live there and to draw upon the good old NHS—and thank God for it.

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