Is the NHS in danger of becoming the new religion?

In these days of the Coronavirus we have moved towards a deeper reverence of the NHS. I believe we have rather moved into dangerous territory. Of course, this is controversial because to criticise the NHS is seen as unpatriotic and not something any decent person would think to do. Or is it?

As a nation we clapped the NHS staff for ten Thursday evenings. We have been clapping people, doctors, nurses and key workers. In many, many ways the nation has shown its appreciation by fund raising, giving gifts, sending messages of appreciation and much more. All these things are right to do; in fact these are things that happen regularly but without much fanfare. But in these unique circumstances the nation has been gripped by fear. And in this fearful atmosphere we have been looking for a saviour. At first it was the government; that honeymoon period passed quite quickly. The government was, of course, out of its depth – like all governments; we have never passed this way before. Then it was the scientists, but it became clear that the science was not consistent. Across the earth there were many solutions proposed to save the world. In the midst of all of this, people started turning to God, with churches reaching out to much larger numbers of people through online services, and alpha courses proliferating.

The NHS can never replace Jesus as the saviour of the nation. But we have a rather unique and disturbing relationship with the NHS which other countries do not have. In 1948 when it was first set up it was under the first Labour government making radical changes following the devastating war with Germany. From the beginning it was hailed as a triumph of a new socialist government. Seventy years on and it manages to produce political emotions as each party fights to be the champion of the prize of the nation. I believe this has partly caused us to idolise our health service in an unnatural way.

Most if not all of the nations of the world have a healthcare service of some kind. They are usually a mix of centralised and localised care. Governments do not rise or fall according to healthcare (though America came quite close with Obamacare). Are we proud of our NHS? Yes, we are, as it is a trusty source of healing, well-being and information for our nation and all who visit us. Does England have the best healthcare in the world? Not by any measurable standards.

One of the problems at the start of the pandemic was that we did not have enough hospital beds, so we had to create new hospitals across the country. In contrast Japan and South Korea have far more beds per head of population. Germany has the most beds in Europe and partly explains how they managed to get hospital care for people quickly and easily. In contrast the UK has the lowest ratio of hospital beds in Europe apart from Sweden. In all of the rankings of best healthcare systems in the world we usually appear about 20th with at least six other European nations above us.

So, do we have a bad healthcare system? No, despite the challenges and relatively high cost of our provision, it is still a good place to get healthcare. We are not the best, but we cannot be best at everything. The main point is that the NHS does not deserve a God-like reverence as if our lives would be at threat if it changed in any way. It is clear there is room for improvement and to make progress we need to remove some of our emotionally-charged reverential fear of the concept of the NHS, trusting God for our health and appreciate all those who work for national and private healthcare systems. Change for the future is best done through a non-political, rational and radical plan in the tradition of Christian care through the centuries.





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