Health

When asked which was the greatest commandment, Jesus quoted two Old Testament verses, telling the religious leaders of the day:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:37-39)

A healthy lifestyle must involve both aspects: loving God and loving others. It is clear from these verses that it is fundamentally important for followers of Jesus to seek an ever-closer relationship with God by worshipping, praying and reading the Bible alone and with others.

juniordoctors.jpgAt the same time, it is incumbent on all Christians to love our neighbours. By way of the parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10, Jesus makes it clear that this encompasses everyone, even those we may have little in common with.

In contrast to the command to love God, which (while often communal) is essentially inward-looking, this command is by definition outward-looking. While Christians on the Left believes in and encourages members to love God, we come together as an organisation to focus on loving others.

What Jesus says in this verse – that we should love other people in the same way that we love ourselves – is at the same time crystal clear and incredibly profound. The implication is that if we are to decipher what it means to love our fellow men and women, we must first work out what it means to love ourselves.

One way in which we love ourselves is by doing our best to provide for our physical, emotional and spiritual needs (or for what we perceive those needs to be). The most basic human need of all is to be fit and healthy. We simply cannot exist as people or fulfil any other meaningful function unless our bodies and minds are physically healthy.

Therefore, God’s people should strive for a society in which everyone’s health is protected. This ambitious goal simply cannot be met by a market which rations services on the basis of ability to pay, and which would therefore make healthcare least accessible to those who most need it. It is imperative that the state steps in.

We are fortunate in the UK to live in a country where the state provides universal healthcare. The creation of the National Health Service by the post-war Labour government was a seminal moment in the social history of our country, and the NHS is rightly seen as an institution of unique value.

A_Ewaitingtimesquartlerly.pngYet despite this, recent years have seen unprecedented pressure on the British healthcare system. By most performance targets, the NHS is achieving its worst standards for decades, and the headline figure for A&E patients seen within four hours now stands at its worst since records began, hitting 85.1% in January for England, a full ten percentage points lower than the 95% target[1]. Doctor’s strikes, pay restraint and deficits at trusts, all of which would have been extremely unusual a decade ago, have now become commonplace.

It is clear that the NHS is at the point of a full-blown crisis, aggravated by the disastrous Health and Social Care Act 2012, which precipitated an unnecessary top-down reorganisation and provided for the phasing out of trusts to be replaced by contracts open to tender. This form of privatisation is actively opposed by no fewer than 67% of doctors surveyed by the BMA[2], and it will weaken provision of services, especially for the vulnerable.

healthcarespending.pngIncreases in health spending have fallen to record lows in recent years. Following average annual spending increases of 5.9% under the last Labour government, the coalition government increased health spending by just 1.1%[3]. Efficiencies and structural reforms must continue, but no amount of reform can sustainably plaster over the problems exposed by a chronic lack of resources. In the absence of significant investment, the demographic fact of an ageing population means continued underfunding will make the NHS increasingly unsustainable.

Social care is also facing severe pressure, with budgets cut by 1.0% in real terms since 2010[4]. This not only makes care less accessible to many, especially the elderly, but contributes to increasing pressure on the NHS. We need a government committed to social care and to integration of health and social care services in a way that saves money and relieves pressure on both.

socialcarespending.pngSimilarly, mental health has received a lot of attention in recent months. Despite this, as many as 57% of clinical commissioning groups are cutting mental health services[5]. The truth is that no amount of talk can make up for money, and funding under the present government has been wholly inadequate to deal with a problem affecting one in six British people on a weekly basis[6].

The latest available OECD comparison figures show that the UK spent 9.8% of national income (GDP) on healthcare in 2015 – a smaller proportion than Canada, the Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, Japan and Switzerland, and much lower than the 16.9% figure in the USA[7]. Thus, while health does consume a large proportion of the government’s budget, an increase would not represent wasteful largesse but would bring us in line with most other large developed economies.

A Labour government will increase NHS funding by a total of £37bn. It will change the current trajectory so that the number of people on waiting lists for surgery and cancer treatment falls rather than rises. The doctors, nurses and other professionals on which our NHS depends will no longer be forced to endure real wage cuts. And there will be sufficient resources to provide proper social care and mental health services to the millions who depend on them.

On earth, Jesus healed many people he came across through his divine power. One day, he will ensure that there is no more death, mourning, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4). In the interim, a well-funded, universally available National Health Service may be the next best alternative. It is essential that we elect a government that will fight to protect ours.

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