iFrom the perspective of Catholic Social Thought (CST), the National Health Service (NHS) does pretty well. As an exercise in solidarity promoting the common good, it hard to gainsay; and, the Catholic Bishops want ‘a robust National Health Service on which we can all rely’. In terms of human dignity, David Cameron said at the pre-Election Question Time that he had experienced love in the NHS: a statement that not even the most cynical pundit has lampooned. As a current beneficiary of intense NHS care, I find myself in agreement with Cameron, even if its almost military procedures jar with our modern convenience culture. While all large institutions can be insensitive to individual needs, I have found its large-scale systems flexible and responsive and the commitment of individual staff to patient dignity highly visible even on a six-bed public ward.
There has been little serious reaction – so far – to the Archbishop of York’s recent contribution to the political debate, once the immediate knee-jerk flurry after its launch had died away. The Morning Star provided a thoughtful review (9th February 2015), while noting that the book is ‘couched in religious terms on occasion’ – oops!
John Sentamu’s first and last book-end chapters are a clarion call for a return to the vision of solidarity shared both by Sentamu’s predecessor William Temple and by the British post-war consensus around the two Beveridge Reports that led to the creation of the NHS and a State commitment to full employment. My copy of the 1976 edition of Temple’s book ‘Christianity and Social Order’ provides quiet testimony, in the form of a foreword by Edward Heath, that this consensus was not a matter of party politics. It is poignant that Heath wrote just as the consensus was dissolving.
Temple agonised over whether and how the Church hierarchy should intervene in political debate. His answer was: through a systematic statement of principles that enables individual Christians to exercise their moral and civil rights; and through a denunciation of customs or institutions in contemporary life and practice which offend against those principles. It is not for the Church to supply technical remedies, yet as Sentamu puts it, quoting Immanuel Kant, ‘religion without politics is empty, politics without religion is blind’. Continue reading