Dr. Catherine Blackman (NHS General Practitioner)
As students return to school, this is a perfect opportunity to reflect on what lockdown has taught us, and is a wonderful chance to integrate the children’s own experiences with their faith. Catholic Teachers have the responsibility to empower their pupils to influence the secular world, to teach their pupils what is important, to live as Christ taught us, as a community, with decent values; to be Christ-centred. The NHS’ commitment through COVID, provides us with a wonderful example stemming from within secular society, to emphasis, as Catholics, the absolute necessity of the Church’s social teaching.
Over the last 40 years, society has been encouraged to put the individual, rather than the community, first. As a consequence, values have altered. Respect of others has dwindled, the blame culture has been promoted and instant access to our multiple needs has been enabled. It is a material rather than a godly world. The pandemic has shifted all of this. We are now in a situation where we all need to act together, to be patient, to take responsibility for and accept the consequences of our actions. It is important now, more than ever, that the Church reinforces the principles of Catholic Social Teaching.
As a Catholic Doctor, I have come to realise the importance of this through my work. I have always tried to bear witness to the truth, by example. Throughout, my working life, I have not been particularly spiritual, perhaps due to laziness, though the ever-increasing pressures placed on NHS workers have certainly played their part. I have humoured my conscious by telling it “laborare est orare”, yet I do believe there is something within the NHS ethos that is spiritually important to learn from. Fundamentally, the NHS is held together by people committed, even when this comes at their own expense, to achieving the common good. This has been demonstrated no more clearly than during the current crisis.
We have seen how throughout the pandemic the NHS has faced challenges from the public, by those who refuse to abide by COVID safety measures. The recent, unjustified, abuse of NHS workers, illustrates this. Support from the government has also been woeful at best. Indeed, this is a much longer governmental trend, through underfunding and overburdening the NHS, in the hopes it will conform to the individualistic and consumerist trends we see in wider society. As health care workers we strive to do our best for the patient and do not actively intend to do harm. However, as professionals we are also human. Currently we are working under extremely difficult and stressful situations. Many of us are suffering from stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and burnout. The commitment to our patients, however, continues to spur us on despite these challenges. As a Catholic GP, I see this as faith in action.
NHS Care Workers are trained to be patient centred. It is important to put the needs of the patient before your own. We are trained to explain things in simple terms that the patient understands. We are expected to keep up to date with the latest medical advances and to continually update our knowledge so that we treat our patients in the best possible way. Surely this follows Christ’s teaching of “Loving our neighbour as ourselves”, and promotes the inherent dignity of the human person. We are encouraged to be constantly self-analytic and self-aware, reflective of our practice to determine any need for change. In essence this must equate to examining our consciences in serving the other in a spirit of solidarity.
As a GP Partner, I promoted the importance of the team. When we work collaboratively, we can achieve far more than when working on our own. We all have different strengths and talents and if we pool these together, we are far more successful. It is important to value each team member as we are all inter-dependent. No one is more or less important than anyone else and the team is only as strong as the weakest link. No man is an island. This is the heart of the common good; it is only this style of work and thinking that will get us through the pandemic. In this case, it is not just about the individual but about the wider community. We all need to play our part. If we were to act with integrity as one big team, taking responsibility for our actions, everyone would benefit and there would be more chance of overcoming the pandemic. Let us use the challenges we have all faced as a moment of teaching, for hope and renewal, in the common good of our society.