The wonderful ‘MD’ from the magazine ‘Private Eye’ is cheaper and quicker than any number of inquiries into the National Health Service. One of his main points is that the NHS suffers when society suffers. It is free, like schools, the police, and even the prison service. Hospital doors are always open. So if people can’t get the help they really need, they seek out the hospital or the doctor.
Or to put it another way, there is a link between poverty, unstable homes, abuse, poor living conditions, poor nutrition, generally not being able to cope with being an adult; and ill-health. But ill-health is the easiest to address because all you have to do is troll up to the accident and emergency department.
With all the other things, if the state can fix them at all, there’s the problem of finding whom to ask, and then a process, delays, bureaucracy, forms to fill, queues to be at the end of, and if you reach the front of the queue they may not have what you need.
Schools are the same; they have to take the kids even if their lives elsewhere are crumbling. And prisons have to take whomever the courts send, so they find space for the mentally ill who, if other parts of the state were working effectively, wouldn’t be there at all.
An issue for politicians, then, and perhaps for the Christian community: the main way to fix the NHS, and schools at the same time, and with a side order of reducing the prison population, is to fix everything upstream that leads to people crowding towards the easily-accessed freebies. And the way to fix national budgets, perhaps, is to shift them towards the slow: stable, warm homes, good nutrition, fitness, and friendship and social support that stops people falling ill (and incidentally keeps them happier and more fruitful) in the first place.
Much easier, of course, said than done, not least because it is long-term and even if done well only addresses part of the ‘problem’ of the NHS. (Another part of its ‘problem’ is the Health Service’s ability to keep many of us alive, which requires a lot of maintenance, rather than dead, which doesn’t. The NHS’s successes poisons its own well.)
This affects healing in the Christian context too. A lot of the best healing ministry is, or perhaps should be, not healing at all but pre-healing: the network of love, the care, the personal disciplines, the pursuit of joy and vocation and indeed the pursuit of God himself, which save us from being ill. Real healing restores these; but really real healing prevents us from becoming sick in the first place, at least sometimes.
Of course all this is simplistic, obvious, easy to point out, hard to do, and is anyway only a temporary fix. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is coming for us. We will disassemble soon. The only permanent solution is the Christian hope. But I’m reminded how much healing should have a wide focus –the whole person in a loving network–not a narrow one — such as increasing the anti-depressant dose.