What you’ve seen in the news is not exaggerated, says Dr Giles Cattermole. Pray for solutions and for NHS staff, but also for the salvation of our nation, he says


Source: Reuters

I’ve just got home from a shift in the emergency department (ED).

The hospital is in ‘critical incident’ due to overcrowding, but it’s been like this for weeks.

100 people or more in a department designed for 25. Queues of ambulances unable to offload for hours because there’s no space. Patients who have had heart attacks or strokes sitting in the waiting room because there are no spare trolleys.

Each day, dozens of patients wait for over 24 hours; several for more than 48. It’s difficult for the doctors, who have no empty rooms to see new patients in. It’s worse for the nurses, who are caring not just for the new arrivals but for what are effectively two or three wards-worth of patients - who cannot get onto the wards because they are all full.

The Covid-19 vaccine was claimed to be humanity’s saviour. But it wasn’t, and the NHS won’t save us either

It’s worst of all for the patients and their relatives, who have to suffer the indignity and inefficiency of corridor treatment, the discomfort of long waits and, most worryingly, the significantly increased risk of harm and death associated with delayed admission.

A preventable disaster

What you’ve seen in the news is not exaggerated.

Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine tweeted this week: “it’s a preventable public health disaster”. He’s not wrong; the system is broken.

Maybe you - or your loved ones - have experienced this yourselves. You might be grieving; you might be angry. This situation should have been preventable, but it has not been prevented. Maybe you blame the government, NHS management, staff, or an increasing and ageing population hit by Covid-19, flu and Strep A all at once.

Obviously, it’s helpful to identify a cause; it gives us a chance of putting it right. But it’s very easy to slide into cynical resentment, or despair, when things continue to stay broken.

A fallen world

But the reality is that we do, indeed, live in a broken and fallen world. It’s right to mourn, both our own suffering and the suffering that we see in the world around us. And it’s right to comfort those who have suffered. Please love one another and pray for those who grieve. 

And do pray for Christians working in the NHS, especially in the ED. In 1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1, Paul says that whatever we do, we’re to do it to God’s glory, seeking the salvation of others and imitating Christ himself.

As a society, we’re so often complacent about death; but with so much suffering in the news, we can’t avoid the reality

Please pray that we, as Christian healthcare professionals, would not become lazy, bitter or too busy to care. We need the Holy Spirit’s strength to live for Jesus and speak for him at work.

Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Please pray that, amid the anger and despair, we would love our patients and colleagues, caring for them as Jesus would. As we live out Christ-likeness in our compassion for others, may people see a difference in us, and ask us for the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15).

And pray that we would have the courage to tell them, and they would come to know Jesus themselves, the sure hope who will see us through every crisis, even death.

The NHS can’t save us

Disease and death are inevitable. When we’re hit by Covid-19, or our hospitals are overwhelmed each winter, it’s a wake-up call.

In Luke 13, Jesus reminds his listeners of the 18 people who were killed when a tower fell on them. They weren’t any more sinful than anyone else, he says, but if we do not repent and turn our hearts towards God, we, too, will perish.

Public health crises should shake us out of our complacency and idolatry. As a society, we’re so often complacent about death; we don’t like thinking about mortality. But as we experience the death of loved ones, or hear of so much suffering in the news, we can’t avoid the reality.

As a society, we’re also in danger of idolising healthcare. The Covid-19 vaccine was claimed by some to be humanity’s saviour. But it wasn’t, and the NHS won’t save us either. It might overcome its current problems; we hope it will get back to caring well for the sick. But it’s not our salvation. Only Jesus offers that.

So do pray for our country, for friends who don’t yet know God, and that the state of the NHS would not drive them to despair or resentment, but to Jesus.