Oh, the shame — we lag behind the British

Contributing WriterNovember 16, 2013 

The words “Call the Midwife” have been heard frequently in our house these past few weeks, though not because of any recent births in our family.

The births in question are those decades ago that were aided by kindhearted and competent nurses and nuns. They helped the pregnant women of England with prenatal care and with deliveries of babies as part of a health care system developed soon after World War II.

The PBS television series, “Call the Midwife” (also available on Netflix) is taken from the book by Jennifer Worth. It’s based on her service as a nurse and midwife in a rough section of London where the poor would not otherwise have had the godsend of professional baby-birthing. That program was how I came to learn about those admirable young women.

I felt grateful at first that such angels exist in the world, be they nurses, doctors, nonwealthy clergy or our military defenders who not only protect others but do so at the cost of their own limbs and lives.

Sadly, after our viewing of the “Midwife” series, something about those nurses and nursing nuns filled me with unseemly jealousy. We were told at the beginning of each episode that those women — and the doctors and hospital caregivers who worked with them — functioned in the 1950s. That rang a bell.

It dawned on me that those women were working in an English health care system founded on the July 5, 1946. The coincidence of the date, so close to our own 4th of July, made me realize that this was what the United States is now struggling to develop — a national system in which everyone has access to medical care, even if they can’t afford it.

It’s galling to realize that we are only now nearing the possibility of medical care for everyone in this country. And it’s doubly galling to realize that the English achieved that level of public service 65 years ago. This, the richest nation on Earth has taken three generations to reach the point where we now have some hope of achieving what England began long, long ago.

We call it Obamacare. The English should call their version Churchillcare. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a Conservative, was the foremost early advocate of Britain’s National Health Service. He played a huge role in stopping the looming tyranny that was Nazi Germany in World War II. And after the war, he fostered the creation of a healing army of medical professionals to attack the battle against disease.

On March 2, 1944, Churchill declared, “The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. ... Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked, just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.”

He added, “Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available.”

Meanwhile, 65 years after England established medical care for all, most of our could-be American Churchills still fail us.

We need leaders to show us the way to attack our biological Nazis, because disease is an enemy. We need a new birth of medical equality in this nation.

For God’s sake, somebody call the midwife.

Contact columnist Bill Hall at wilberth@cableone.net or 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501.

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