Outside St Thomas’ hospital in south London an artwork has been created of artificial flowers with the message I ♥️ NHS. This captures the sentiments of so many who have been clapping on their doorsteps every Thursday, placing rainbows in their windows, acknowledging in personal messages their admiration and support for those who work in hospitals and care homes. An important human response. We have also seen a flourishing of fundraising activities for the NHS from individuals anxious to affirm the work and help meet short-falls in funding. Here lies the rub. The funding of the NHS is a matter of justice not charity. It is a ‘national’ project, a sort of contract between the state and the people of the country who have contributed to it through their taxes. Lack of proper investment over many years has led to the crisis we face now: scarcity of PPE, the over-extension of staff, the invisibility of the elderly in care homes and so on. So, good, ordinary people work to make up the short-fall. This reflects one aspect of catholic social action – the two feet of Christian service – one calls for social change, removing the causes of problems, the other offers direct service, helping to survive problems and crises. We need both.
I often look at issues through the lens of my work for peace. I cannot but help challenge the scandalous amounts of money spent in defence, arms, warfare which take money from projects such as the NHS and other great work such as care of the isolated elderly, undertaken so well by the Irish Chaplaincy. Last month marked Global Days of Action on Military Spending and invited people to think of where the global military spend of US$1.8 trillion a year (in the UK US$50 billion) might be better used. For me the answer is healthcare not warfare.
Such questions and choices are also a matter of faith. Years ago a SND sister whom I worked with would say, “A budget is the acid test of where our heart is”… or put another way, where our values lie. Informed by the Gospels and the teaching of the church we ask difficult questions and take positive actions to redress the balance when the reality and our values are out of kilter. In his homily a few Sundays ago Pope Francis said: “May we be profoundly shaken by what is happening all around us: the time has come to eliminate inequalities, to heal the injustice that is undermining the health of the entire human family! Let us learn from the early Christian community described in the Acts of the Apostles. It received mercy and lived with mercy: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). This is not some ideology: it is Christianity.”
Pat Gaffney is a volunteer with the Irish Chaplaincy