Thought for the Day - Canon Angela Tilby - 05/02/2013

Good morning. I’ve always been a fan of Casualty – the Saturday night hospital drama. I’ve watched it since it started. Over the years I’ve seen so many emergency tracheotomies that I almost feel I could perform one, but that’s not really why I watch. What appeals to me are the big human themes which are played out week by week: life, death, tragedy, hope and reconciliation. The casualty department at Holby City hospital is not just for medical emergencies; it is a gallery of character, a school of suffering and salvation. Saturday’s episode was a case in point. Nick Jordan the clinical lead, was mad with grief after the death of the woman he loved, a policewoman paralysed after a riot. The man who caused her death was a shopkeeper who had attacked her mistaking her for a thug. He was brought in to A&E desperately ill. Only Nick Jordan had the experience and skill to pass the narrow wire through his pulmonary artery and dissolve the blood clot which was threatening his life. The plot was all about redemption, both of the attacker and the bereaved victim. By saving his enemy’s life Nick Jordan somehow found peace. As I Christian I found the whole episode laden with allusions to Good Friday and the moral price of forgiveness.

After the opening ceremony of the Olympics someone remarked that the NHS has become our true religion. Casualty might support that – the A& E team represent a perfect mix of ethnic backgrounds; they are gender balanced, old and young; they span the social classes. And over the years everyone who joins the clinical team, no matter how awkward or difficult they are at the beginning of their stint they seem to end up becoming a better person. If the A& E team were a church everyone would be saved.

But Casualty only tells a partial truth about the NHS. It leaves out what we have discovered from Stafford Hospital and which will be reported on later this week; that hospitals can be places where casual cruelty, indifference and bullying are tolerated and potential whistle-blowers are threatened. There is I think, a dangerous and very British tendency to sentimentalize our institutions, to claim that in spite of everything we are still the best in the world even when the evidence in pointing in a different direction.

That doesn’t mean it would be right for Casualty to portray the worst alongside the best. We have documentaries to do that. But it does mean that we should watch to be inspired rather than informed. Casualty is how we would like things to be at their best: the redemptive quality of what we see on Saturday nights is an aspiration hoping to become reality, rather like the Church on Sunday mornings. If the NHS is our religion it is a religion of sinners, though we may hope that sinners can become saints.

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