Another New Year, another set of anniversaries to look forward to. You know the sort of thing: Thomas Hardy died in 1928 – 90 years ago. Authors rush to produce articles or even books to coincide with the date, and radio and TV programmes are broadcast. Then it’s straight on to, “First telegraph message sent in the United States, 180 years ago this month” with references to Trump and Tweet. Or more seriously, it will be 70 years this year since Gandhi was assassinated, with all that that meant at the time and subsequently.
But my anniversary of choice this year will happen on 5th July when it will be exactly 70 years since the National Health Service was created. I know it took years of preparation and many hours of negotiation; I know there were some unfortunate fudges to get it off the ground. But it still seems to me to be remarkable that, in 1948 when we were still struggling with the aftermath of war, plans which had been drawn up even in the darkest years of that war, finally came together in an announcement by Aneurin Bevan at Park Hospital, Manchester, and the National Health became a reality. “Free at point of use” was the slogan.
I had cataracts as a small boy – and seventy years ago the operation to deal with that condition was complex and expensive. I marvel that nowadays it is a half a day routine procedure – I was in hospital for three quite long periods. But I was treated; I did not lose my sight and I was equipped with pink wired National Health glasses of alarming thickness.
And for the rest of my life – and I suspect that of a goodly number of readers of this magazine – I have never had to worry about the charges before contacting the GP, or going to the Eye Hospital, or having a new hip, or having my hearing checked. That is not to say that I am unaware of the shortcomings of the system, of all the ways in which improvements can still be made. But all of those failures do not negate the wonderful care my wife received for her cancer, let alone my own experience.
As the New Year begins, let us recognise that when we really understand our relationship to each other – the common responsibility we have to care for every human being, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances may be – in Christian terms that we are all children of the same heavenly Father, uniquely precious in His sight – then we can rise to real heights of community spirit, true compassion in our common humanity.
There is much to do to redress the balance between rich and poor in our land today, and to reverse our profligate abuse of the planet and its seas. But just for a moment let us use the New Year to celebrate what can be achieved, be positive in our thanks and praise to those who are the NHS for us, and be a little bit proud of what happened, seventy years ago, in July, 1948.