In the first weeks of the New Year, the usual acute winter pressures on the NHS reached their worst crisis point in many years. (1) An alarming number of hospitals were on black alert with stories
of patients waiting in ambulances for hours to be seen in A&E and the cancellation of hundreds of planned operations to free up beds. (2) Acres of commentary have been spent discussing why and what should be done about it. However, the consensus is that it will take more than money. While the government has subsequently indicated a shift in funding and pay in the coming year after nearly a decade of austerity, this barely scratches the surface of the deeper problems.
CMF members have, like their non-Christian colleagues, been working incredibly hard during this period, as they do throughout the year. We hear a lot of stories from them, particularly how many patients are being admitted via A&E who should not have to be seen there and how many GP surgeries are struggling to see the neediest patients because of the sheer volume of people wanting appointments.
Preventative medicine, social support and community care are so vital to keeping people out of hospital or from acute health crises. But for too long, the NHS has focussed resources on acute medicine and side-lined resources that tackle the social (and spiritual) determinants of health.
The Jubilee Centre recently published a paper (3) arguing that social support mechanisms need policies that actively support the family. The wealth of research, that shows how families are integral to maintaining and promoting physical and mental health, back this up. (4 )Yet the policies of successive governments have weakened the family and marginalised its role in social support and community cohesion.
There is also a growing body of research to support the role of spiritual health and community in maintaining physical and mental health. (5) A report from Faith Action (6) last year suggested that faith-based organisations are having a positive impact on social and spiritual support that promotes long-term health and reduces admission. They argue that the NHS and social services need to be looking to work better with churches and faith-based organisations if we are to avoid a repeat of the last winter crisis.
The church and the family may not be the sole solution to the NHS crises , but any solution must involve policies that recognise their critical role in finding that solution.