Author: Sean Henderson-Kelly, membership and public relations manager
In recent months none of us can fail to have been moved by the news broadcasts showing the consequences of the air strikes on hospitals in Aleppo.
Among other things we experience horror and sorrow, as well as anger and profound disgust at the obscenity of these attacks.
As healthcare professionals many of us have asked ourselves how we would cope. It’s hard for most of us to imagine trying to do everything we can for our patients, not just against the insuperable odds of failing supplies and destroyed facilities, but living with the permanent threat of injury and death.
Watching such a report I found myself leaving aside the political considerations (important though these are) and asking myself what may seem a rather obvious question. Why do we find the deliberate targeting of hospitals so horrible and despicable?
Well, people in hospital are vulnerable. They, or their loved ones, are sick and injured, possibly dying. Targeting people in this situation is cowardly and to most of us, unthinkable.
But I’d argue that there is more than the insult to our sense of fair play. Turn the clock back a few centuries and in Europe hospitals were run by the church. Caring for the sick and the
injured was a sacred duty, intrinsically linked to people’s view of their life and the universe. The vestiges remain - think of the hospital’s chapel or faith centre (a facility provided by few other public institutions), the term ‘sister’ and, until comparatively recently, even the women’s uniforms.
Accounts exist of patients in those times surviving even the Black Death, although I’d argue this was down to what we would now see as good nursing, rather than the prevalent medical procedures!
The greatest act of vandalism against this system was perpetrated by Henry VIII whose abolition of the monasteries was about far more than appropriating their admittedly rather excessive wealth. Henry weakened England by robbing the country of its health and social care infrastructure and replaced its established belief system with a new ideology in which he and his state were all powerful and demanded total compliance.
Our failure to learn the lessons of history can be a depressing thing.
So, for me, that’s the answer. Healthcare isn’t simply a range of services to be delivered like your monthly copy of Synergy News or a pizza. What we do, whatever our drivers or motives, has to be rooted in decency, compassion and humanity.
We can be proud of our profession and its achievements and to the understated compassion and humanity that really makes it tick.