The brilliance of the NHS

Not so much ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ as ‘rabbit caught in the radiator grille’, Max Pemberton’s account of his first year in the medical profession is a frightening read. Written a few years before the implementation of the European working-time directive, Trust me I'm a junior doctor shows how chaotic life as a new doctor could be. So much so that I’m not sure how good my choice of words is: ‘chaotic’ seems like a gross understatement and ‘life’ is a euphemism for ‘dazed existence’.

Sudden deaths, horrible illnesses, and terrible sadnesses are all here in abundance, as is the expected cast of mean consultants, heroic nurses, confused juniors, and every kind of patient. Sometimes these elements and the manner in which they are presented feels a bit contrived but the authorial honesty (and short chapters) more than make up for this.

A couple of things struck me as I read this book...

Firstly there’s the striking contrast in the hospital ‘tableau’ of patient and doctor together. Whilst one human body collapses towards dust, another is at its best trying to bring healing. Then sometimes this is inverted when the patient achieves or realises something that the doctor could never have achieved done for them. I suppose this is what words like 'paradox' are for.

The other thought, shared with the author, is that for all its faults the NHS is one of humanity’s great ideas. I’ve read a bit of the American Christian reaction to President Obama’s healthcare reforms and it puzzles me to say the least. Accepting and setting aside the arguments about abortion and stem-cell research, for a nation to offer universal health care is, in my eyes, evidence of the grace of God. Not for nothing are healthcare’s roots in religion. You can complain that the State ought not, therefore, take on that responsibility but I think it makes a nation that does so rather more righteous than one which crosses the road as its poor suffer and die, muttering about not having health insurance. The NHS is not by any means perfect but I’m pretty sure that we in the UK only complain about it because we have no idea what a good deal we are getting. I thank God for it.