The value of a national health service


Sir, – As one of the many thousands of Irish people who worked in the British National Health Service I was pleased to read (April 4th) that President Higgins would pay tribute to the contribution made by our fellow nationals to this institution. My mother, aunt and sister worked in Britain as nurses, and my my wife and I as doctors – for over 75 years in total. Certainly the NHS itself has not recognised the contribution of the Irish to keeping afloat what is often an imperfect but nevertheless admirable healthcare system.

The service is certainly the object of regular criticism from patients and staff, but outside observers would be foolish to believe that the British would be willing to give it up for a mixed private/public health service, with all the inherent inefficiencies and conflicts of interests that that involves. The NHS retains the affection and stirs the pride of the nation, as was seen in Danny Boyle’s contribution to the opening of the Olympics in London in 2012.

The experiences of the two world wars produced in Britain a deep desire that things should never be the same again and that housing, education and health to what was called the common man should become priorities. William Beveridge, an economist, whose work led to the foundation of the NHS, urged that when the traditional landmarks of society were being abolished “now is the opportunity for using experience in a clear field”.

Many of the landmarks of Irish society have been abolished in recent times and we have an opportunity to use our experience to also advance in the areas of housing, education and healthcare. Those of us who have worked in a society that allows the patient to see the doctor when he or she is ill know it is more moral than one where the sick patient asks permission to “leave the money in next week”.

This is an example of a relationship that must be redefined by universal values that include good healthcare that is available when citizens believe themselves to be in need. Yours, etc,


Professor of General


Trinity College Dublin