The NHS and all that jazz
Last week the National Health Service marked its 70th anniversary. The irony is that, when this all too human institution was inaugurated in 1948, average human life expectancy in the UK was still reckoned to be the biblical ‘three score years and ten’ or thereabouts. But this weekend, up and down the land, politicians could not officially open village fetes and the like without bringing in the phrase ‘let’s look forward to the next 70 years’ (they didn’t add ‘with growing apprehension’).
As an amateur musician, I did my bit at our local hospital fete before bunking off to the Swanage Jazz Festival (audience only – I’ll never be that good) and listened to real musicians work their magic with the classic jazz standards of the 1920s and ‘30s.
It occurred to me that, while music has moved on to bebop and various unlistenable-to forms of ‘modern jazz’, the old classic standards will endure because they do what they were meant to do – uplift the human spirit.
And so I wonder if the NHS can be usefully likened to a classic jazz standard, with politicians, Whitehall panjandrums, journalists and social commentators endlessly embroidering the recurrent themes, (nurse shortages, restive doctors, long waiting times, delayed discharges, management restructures, extra funding and so on) working their own magic to put a new gloss on something which will never change at its root.
The NHS was and is a magnificent piece of work. Unquestionably a social good which was initially framed to meet the clinical and care needs of those who had the misfortune to need its support. But just like jazz, health and social care have moved on and, while we can revere the NHS for the grand old standard that it is, I think it’s time for someone to write a new tune.
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