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A Humble NHS?

Written by Rev Samuel Pollard · Monday 18th February 2013

A Recap

Last week in my personal blog I reflected on humility as defined by James Ryle:

God given self-assurance that eliminates the need to prove to others the worth of who you are and the rightness of what you do.

Ryle suggests, from 1 Peter 5:5-7, that central to humbling ourselves is throwing our cares on to God. Every concern, care and fear being hurled on to God who is faithful and powerful enough to handle them. When we know that we are loved by Him no matter what and that He is in control no matter what, then we remove the need to prove ourselves or protect ourselves. We become humble – secure enough to allow God to be in control and to serve others. Once our eyes are lifted from ourselves we are able to see others to love and serve them.

Stafford Hospital

Just before writing the last post I was reading an article about the report by Robert Francis QC on the appalling treatment of patients at Stafford Hospital. One of the recurring comments made by many different people is that the pressure of targets and incentives increasingly displaces focus on compassion and patient care. When doctors, nurses and managers alike are bombarded with ever increasing and regularly changes hoops to jump through and targets to meet, no wonder their attention and efforts are dragged from patient care.

I’ve seen something of the effects of this in a family member who for many years worked as a Health Visitor. In their decades of service they saw an ever increasing and ever changing string of targets and goals alongside cost cutting moves that stripped resources and personnel. Their desire to be compassionate and offer the best care possible became more and more stressful until it finally proved too much. She recently changed jobs.

Now I’m not trying to attack the NHS and I am well aware that so many people receive great care. But this is not a new concern that is being bandied around with fresh vigour in the light of Stafford Hospital. What struck me is that it demonstrates on an institutional level what also seems true at a personal level. Namely, that when we are forced to operate from a place of insecurity we begin to miss the most important things. NHS services have to meet targets to receive funding to simply keep operating – there will be no patient care if there is no hospital. Oftentimes, especially as a leader, we can live with a sense that, unless we meet expectations or make people like us or recognise our worth, then we’ll have no influence to do any of the things we know we are called to do.

The secret of personal humility is to recognise that we are already loved by our Father before we even move our finger; to recognise that He is control and we can throw every care on Him. A person who can live from that place of security finds, free from the need to prove themselves or their actions, can begin to simply do what they are made and called to do. They are no longer pulled in different directions by a multiplicity of cares. What about an institution?

It strikes me that a similar solution is needed for the NHS. Is there a way to give security for doctors, nurses and caring professionals so that they are able to do what they are called to do without constantly watching their back? Obviously there is a need for accountability for the safety of patients and to ensure a good standard of care, but the constant need to prove worth and achievement cannot be helpful for those who are called to compassionate care.

I’m not a healthcare professional. I don’t know exactly what this would look like. But I recognise in the diagnosis of struggles in the NHS, God’s diagnosis of struggles in many people’s lives. The way He designed us to live with Him is often a good basis to begin to imagine a new way for every level of society to function.

So, my question is this: what would a humble NHS look like? To whom could a National Health Service throw it’s concerns and cares?