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‘We expect the NHS to make everything alright’

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Ok, let's pretend we’re on Gardeners’ World for a minute: does anyone know how to get rid of bindweed? We are finally winning the battle against slugs. We tried harsh words but I don’t know if slugs have ears.

We built barriers around our cabbages but slugs like to climb. We didn’t want to hurt the little fellas (that’s a lie, actually, my usually mild-mannered wife comes over a bit Rambo if she discovers slugs have been at the broccoli) but they left us no choice and we resorted to pellets.

However, now bindweed seems to have upped its game in light of what happened to the slugs and is gathering around the leeks the way photographers gather round pubs that have Amy Winehouse in them.

Not that I should be bothering you with this. This is a nursing magazine and I know you are busy but if you have any tips, do let me know. Oh and while you’re at it, I wonder if you might like to get together and wage war on poverty, hardship, cultural decay and urban violence. Not for me you understand – mostly I need help with the bindweed – but for everyone else.

Amid the many stories that have emerged from the NHS 60th anniversary celebrations, one from the BBC was quite striking. It relates to how health visitors in Falmouth, Cornwall, set about transforming a ‘no-go’ estate into a community. In the face of social deprivation, poor housing, crime and unemployment, they set about trying to address the underpinning problems that were, in effect, disabling the community.

It is a testament to the talents of the healthcare professionals involved as well as the underpinning drives of the NHS. The project is used as an example of how far-reaching the NHS can be if it is given the chance, which is an interesting thought. But is it appropriate? Does it even make sense?

The idea that the health service can treat not only people but also the circumstances in which we live has a certain charm but no logic. The adage that health is cultivated by lifestyle and circumstance is true. But the idea that health professionals should treat intangibles like deprivation, unemployment, cultural poverty or crime just doesn’t follow.

However, it does tell us something important about the way we live. It tells us that we retain an expectation that someone will do something to address society’s ills – but we’re not sure who. And it might also tell us that no matter how overstretched, confused, dissipated and overly politicised the NHS is, we still recognise it as an institution that tries to do good. And we can’t really identify too many more of those, can we? The health service is struggling but that doesn’t seem to stop everyone expecting it to make everything alright.

Want to read more of Mark Radcliffe? Just click on the 'more by this author' link at the top of the page.

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