The ‘On my bedside table’ Series – Jennifer Worth and Adam Kay
05 Jun 2020
The National Health Service (NHS) – publicly funded health care systems across the four countries of the United Kingdom established in 1948 as part of major social reforms after the Second World War. The debate about our system has raged for a while exploring its effectiveness, contemporary structure and the possible need to privatise it, but never before has the NHS come under such focus and scrutiny as during the recent months of the pandemic. The bold yellow message perpetrated by the Government bracingly read ‘Stay Home, Protect The NHS, Save Lives’ until a very recent change in directive. The support and flood of positivity for all front-line workers, especially NHS staff, has been overwhelming with colourful rainbows featuring on many household windows, across social media and even on pebbles by the roadside. This Thursday, the 28th of May, may have marked the final communal gathering (socially distanced of course!) to clap for our carers but the gratitude runs deep and heartfelt in all of us. So, I chose to read books by authors giving me a glimpse into this colossal reformist institution, the NHS, but at two completely different ends of time.
‘Call the Midwife’ by Jennifer Worth is set in a time when it all began. The city of London during the 1950s was rife with disease and poverty, still reeling from the after effects of a near crushing world war. The NHS was born out of the need to make good healthcare service available to all, irrespective of wealth, and this is very evident in the experiences of Jennifer herself as a newly qualified midwife working in the poorest suburbs of London. Jennifer’s narrative of the squalid conditions of the dock workers and their families, the challenges faced in delivering babies with negligible resources comes as no surprise, but the raw emotion and utter joy felt while brining a new life into the world successfully, along with the camaraderie shared with other midwives is infectious. One cannot but believe that everything is going to be alright.
Adam Kay on the other hand is a junior doctor within the NHS in the 21st Century. He comes into the throes of the healthcare system after it has experienced burgeoning population, crippling funding cuts, healthcare tourism and even Brexit. His narrative is far from the optimistic undercurrent of the earlier storyline and he very carefully takes the assistance of humour, I think to hide the hysteria. ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ is an autobiographical recollection of Adam Kay’s year in his life doing sub-100 hour exhausting weeks, making life and death decisions with little or no support, and being subjected to copious amounts of bodily fluids that aren’t even from his body. Adam chose to step away from the NHS and pursue other careers, however it brings into perspective the 2016 strikes by junior doctors, the very first time they brought their working conditions to light in front of the general public.
Yes, there are flaws in the current operation of the NHS. Yes, there is an urgent need to reform it to a relevant and sustainable form of functioning. However, the healthcare system is a stalwart of our national fabric and I hope it survives and continues to enthral us with its bitter-sweet stories well into the future.
-- Written by Sonali Deshpande --