Health care reform – just three simple words.
But it is a phrase that has been convulsing the political scene on both sides of the Atlantic for a long time, commanding an untold number of print and digital column inches.
In the US it is a major talking point in the presidential election campaign while in Britain a significant fall in satisfaction with the National Health Service has been linked to the often contentious debate about its future.
According to the British Social Attitudes report – published yearly since 1983 by the King’s Health Fund – public satisfaction with the way the NHS is run fell from 70 per cent to 58 per cent last year.
John Appleby, the Fund’s chief economist, conceded that the “run of year-on-year increases in NHS satisfaction had to come to an end at some stage” and was unsurprised it happened as “the NHS is facing a well-publicised spending squeeze”. But, he said: “Nevertheless, it is something of a shock that it has fallen so significantly. This will be a concern to the Government, given it appears to be closely linked with the debate on its NHS reforms.”
Political efforts to bring change in how medical care is made available in Britain and the States has seen epic battles involving people on both sides of the political divide who passionately believe in what they are fighting for.
But to many observers for whom “being healthy” is a distant memory despite the best medical attention, these political skirmishes miss the mark. Budget considerations and organisational innovations are not the key issue. The heart of the matter is: “How can I get better?”
This need drives many people to use alternative methods of treatment. In both the UK and the US research has shown this includes many clinicians.
One such non-medical approach is itself a process of reform – changing the way one thinks.
Many people approach this through spiritual practices like meditation, some of which have been secularised and made available on the NHS as mindfulness or cognitive behavioural therapy.
My prefered approach is to strive to learn from the spirituality put into practice by Jesus. He talked of the need for repentance, a word which has taken on some heavy religious connotations over the centuries. But its original meaning was a willingness to “take on a new and life-changing mindset”, and “the word itself signified self-transformation, not self-blame”, according to broadcaster and syndicated columnist Suzette Martinez Standring.
Jesus showed how a mental shift like letting go of a simmering resentment or putting patience ahead of irritability could bring peace to the body as well as calm consciousness.
In my experience, such mental reform can still be an effective means to regain health and I’ve found that taking steps in this direction often feels more liberating than the accompanying improvement in physical well-being – although both are very welcome!
Healthcare debates are too often conducted as heady arguments built on the presumption that all reform roads lead to new and better medical models.
But, for many, the heart’s yearning mines a deeper, soulful aspiration, whether we are in need of care or are carers of those in need. Spirituality author and Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy once described “the great element of reform” as coming not from human organisations but as a result of thought moving from a material to a more spiritual standpoint.
So, health care reform in just three simple words?
“More spirituality please!”
This blog originally appeared in The Huffington Post UK on 3 July, 2012