Belfast Telegraph

NHS and its amazing staff is one of the many things we should be thankful for

By Alf McCreary

The National Health Service so often comes under attack, but this week a senior Church of Ireland cleric expressed praise for his NHS treatment when he suffered from a serious heart scare.

The Bishop of Connor the Rt Rev Alan Abernethy made headlines when he told members of his Synod in Carrickfergus that he had suffered what he thought was a heart attack.

He told how he had a bad experience in 2015 when he fainted and broke his jaw.

However, the various tests since then had shown nothing wrong and no trace of cardiac trouble. In June this year, however, he suddenly felt unwell and when he underwent an angiogram procedure it was discovered that his left coronary artery was 90% blocked.

The doctors inserted a stent and as a result the blood started flowing freely along the artery again. Thus a potential heart attack was avoided and there was no permanent damage.

I am no medical expert, but the insertion of a stent seems a relatively routine procedure, yet not so many years ago thousands of people died because such swift and effective treatment was not available.

Bishop Abernethy told his Synod colleagues: "There is much in the news about the Health Service, but I was grateful for the care I was receiving and am still receiving." Such praise is well-deserved, and for quite some time I have been meaning to write also in praise of the NHS which, with all its drawbacks, has been very good to me and my family.

On two occasions long ago the medical and nursing staff of the NHS saved my life during serious respiratory illnesses.

Thankfully I have been and remain in generally strong, good health, but even so I, like many other people, have had to attend clinics for various tests.

In recent years the waiting lists have been painfully long, in most cases, but I have found that once I am receiving attention, the doctors and nurses, and other support staff, have been courteous and helpful, despite the enormous pressure they are under.

I have also had to visit A&E on occasions and, although the wait can be terribly long, the mostly young staff were reassuring and helpful.

It is important to keep these things in perspective and obviously there are distressing examples of the NHS struggling to cope because of the lack of resources and money, but like Bishop Abernethy we should be ready always to praise people where praise is due.

The bishop also told his Synod that his health scare made him aware of his own mortality "and it has helped me to refocus and to rethink how I exercise my ministry and my personal priorities".

How right he is. We now live in a busy world where so many people are chasing their own tails. They leave no time for reflection, or for enjoying the moment and for giving thanks for what they have.

The other morning, in the midst of a busy schedule, I stepped into my back garden for a moment and suddenly I spotted a magnificent Red Admiral butterfly among the roses. It was a rare and beautiful image which helped to brighten the rest of my day.

In his Synod speech, Bishop Abernethy also drew attention to his fellow Christians who are being harassed, and many are being murdered, in South Sudan, where the Diocese of Yei is closely linked to Connor.

This struck a deep chord within me, as I was in Yei many years ago with Christian Aid and the people even then were experiencing hunger, violence and oppression.

This week we lived through the rare and disturbing experience of the severe storm Ophelia, which caused much apprehension and controversy, but in our developed-world affluence we managed relatively well.

Just think of the millions of poor people worldwide in the recent hurricanes and floods who have had nothing to fall back on.

In Northern Ireland we really do have much to be thankful for, despite our nagging political problems.

Perhaps it is time for us to start giving thanks and praise, instead of our constant grumbling and criticisms which are such a depressing part of life here nowadays.

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