Health, Happiness and the NHS

Our Lady of Consolation
Our Lady of Consolation, icon, since c. 1450 at Cambrai, Flanders

Today is the feast of Our Lady of Consolation and the 70th birthday of the National Health Service. I owe an enormous debt to both and make no apologies for an intensely personal post.

Many years ago, before I became a nun, I was doing some research in Ourense, Galicia, where the canon-archivist was very keen to show the enigmatic Inglesa his pride and joy: a statue of Our Lady of Consolation that had been much beloved of English seamen. I had so far acculturated to Spanish ways that I actually dropped to my knees and prayed — for England, of course, but even more, with all the egocentricity of youth, for myself and future path in life. I did not know that it would lead me to an English Benedictine monastery under the patronage of that self-same Lady of Consolation, nor that one of my kinswomen had been a member of the community back in the eighteenth century. But it did, and I think that the emphasis on compassion, on strengthening, the choice of dedication gave the community has been a marker in many monastic lives. Here at Howton Grove, where we are under the patronage of the Blessed Trinity, we continue the tradition, I hope, albeit in a different form from that of the seventeenth century when Cambrai was established.

It seems to me very suitable that the NHS should have begun on the feast of Our Lady of Consolation, though I doubt whether its first architect would have been so appreciative of the link! During the last seventy years the NHS has undergone many transformations and will doubtless undergo many more, but one thing it has done superbly well, especially for the poor. It has taken away the worry of ‘how will I afford treatment?’ I myself have two rare diseases, one of them a rare and aggressive form of cancer that has been kept at bay far longer than I have any right to expect by a treatment programme entirely funded by the NHS. The community couldn’t afford the treatment I’ve had; we couldn’t even afford the insurance premiums for the treatment I’ve had. So, yes, I am just one more person who owes her life to the NHS, but there is a little more to it than that.

I began by referencing Our Lady of Consolation for a reason. I haven’t much time for those who moan and groan about the NHS being underfunded or who are scathing about its poor outcomes in some areas because I happen to believe that we are each of us chiefly responsible for our own health. It is up to us to adopt as healthy a life-style as we can and I don’t expect the NHS to make good any defects in my own ‘self-care’, as it were. The NHS is flawed, as any large organisation will be flawed; but that isn’t the point. The existence of the NHS has freed us from an anxiety about ourselves that can be quite crippling. The question we must therefore ask is, what do we do with that freedom? Are we givers of comfort and encouragement or merely consumers thereof? There are times when my own illness makes me look inward and feel very sorry for myself, but I hope there are more times when it forces me to look outwards at the sufferings of others. When I can do nothing else, when I am too sick to write or respond to requests, I can try to pray — and somehow, in ways I can’t explain, I think that does achieve something. Despite all the sadness, anger and division in the world, despite all the moral, physical, mental and spiritual sickness that exists, there is a way of spreading health and happiness. It is called prayer, and it costs . . . everything.

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13 thoughts on “Health, Happiness and the NHS”

  1. Thank you. Inspiring, uplifting and humbling. Please continue to pray for me and my family – I remember you and your Community in my prayers…

  2. Thank you for your inspiring words! In Germany we have a health insurance system , state or private, which you contribute to , depending on your income. , It also makes sure ,all essential medical treatments are taken care of , I am so grateful for this , my family has often benefitted from this scheme.

  3. I know I am simplistic, but for me, your post is amazing. Perhaps it is because I care for a religious who has suffered through and survived two cancers, and I see her struggle to pray for others in her sufferings. Your post touches my heart. My sufferings are different pertaining to brokenness in relationships because of an abusive childhood. But for me also, what is there to do but accept what is, place God first, pray for the needs of others. Our Lady of Consolation, look kindly on us all and intercede for us for our true needs.

  4. Having been reliant on the NHS to keep me alive since 1977 and blessed with monthly visits to see my GP as I have been hit with one auto immune disease after another and keep a small pharmacy of daily medication I am truly grateful. Without the NHS I would probably have been dead many years ago as nobody would have covered my illnesses I have never had life insurance as it was denied to me by all companies

  5. Thank you, Sister Catherine. You are so right that worrying about affording health care or the ability to get needed treatment can add debilitating stress to people who are already ill or live in fear of becoming ill due to lack of health insurance/coverage.
    I recognize that this is not the only point of your post today, but it is worth noting especially in places where affordable health insurance and coverage is not a given.

  6. Thank you for this supportive post of our NHS . We can all look inward when faced with illness or trials . But my own experiences of a late spouse with a crippling mental illness followed by his sudden death has helped me encourage others experiencing similar trials . I have come to believe that the experience , dreadful though it was at the time , is in fact a gift , to be shared . Prayer equally is a gift and as you so rightly say , sometimes the only thing we can do . yes . and sometimes it is our only power. But mighty in His hands !

  7. The NHS is keeping my husband alive with expensive drugs and, together with the prayers of my parish, his illness has changed our relationship. Out of so much worry and emotional loneliness, I am deeply grateful to God for loving us both

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