What a tragedy that Nicola Russell and others who live with cancer must also live with the knowledge that, in Northern Ireland, they cannot have access to drugs that could improve and extend their lives. Their pain is increased by knowing that, in other parts of the UK, the NHS would pay for this treatment. The Belfast Telegraph (24th June), along with many others, call this situation a ‘postcode lottery.’ But this is entirely misleading. It gives the impression that NHS treatment is some sort of game of chance. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Local NHS Trusts and those in power in local government have limited budgets and must make terrible decisions. Every pound spent on a cancer drug could also be spent on the salary of a geriatric nurse or on support for children with serious mental health problems or on hip operations or on… Denying a patient any of these becomes a tragedy when a geriatric patient dies in a hospital bed and isn’t discovered for three hours or a child takes his own life or an elderly woman falls down stairs to her death. Each was denied care because of the ‘postcode lottery’ that denied them life-saving treatment.
The Church has no political power but we can support both our Christian brothers and sisters and the many others who work in the NHS and in local government who make and who live with the consequences of dreadfully difficult and complex decisions. We can pray but we can do more. We can contribute to the decision making process, bringing the wisdom and compassion of Christ to the debates so that money does not simply follow those who shout loudest or who have the most effective lobbyists, or whose cause is the ‘flavour of the month’ in the media, butwill be forgotten when someone else’s tragedy sells more advertising space (am I a bit too cynical here? Maybe so)
So, think theologically about how we should care for the weak, write to your local politician, listen to the nurse who sits next you in the pew, or commit yourself to caring for someone in your congregation who suffers as Nicola Russell and many others do.