Amol Rajan: A revelation of Britishness in the heart of the NHS

FreeView from the editors at i

Share

On Tuesday I had a minor operation at University College Hospital (UCH) in London.

Nothing serious, you'll be disappointed to discover. Yet seven hours in the very bowels of our National Health Service, in a week when the Care Quality Commission reported that more than a quarter of NHS and social care services in England are failing to meet essential standards, prompted three main reflections on what it means to be British today. These are general sentiments, not policy prescriptions.

The first striking thing was how un-English UCH is. I know this is central London, but 80 per cent of staff and patients seemed of foreign extraction. My pre-assessment nurse was Filipino, my anaesthetist was Australian, and my post-op nurse was an exquisitely charming young Nigerian called Adebola, who explained with rare erudition why his beloved Sir Alex Ferguson will never retire.

I am young, healthy, not poor, and childless, so I don't depend as much on our public services as many others. Regular readers will know I am a huge fan of immigration, not on economic grounds but because the typical migrant's tale is the ultimate expression of what it means to be human, and that is something I feel governments should encourage rather than criminalise.

But when, in the outpatients clinic, I saw a series of women with hijabs, and then an uppity, rude Romanian man summoned to the registration desk before the few white folk around, I saw a flash of something disapproving – anger? distaste? envy? – in their faces, and felt it somehow understandable.

The second reflection was: never under-estimate the consolatory power of time spent in an institution where staff are there because they care. This extraordinary temple of needles, monitors and drips was a monument to compassion: to the irreducible moral conviction that suffering is bad.

For the last reflection, forgive me if I adopt a medical metaphor. If our whole country were a single body, government would be the head (not the brain – that's our education system) and the NHS would be its beating heart. To see the sheer volume of people, paperwork, and investment that goes into a single operation is to see how this fallible, precious institution pumps the lifeblood of our nation.

When Nigel Lawson said the NHS is "the nearest thing we have to an established Church", he intended no sarcasm. Above all, my experience of the NHS reminded me what a tremendous stroke of luck it is to be born British, not that I was.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £60,000

£25000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Care Workers Required - The London Borough of Bromley

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This homecare agency is based in Beckenh...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives - OTE £50,000

£25000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about Custom...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Polish minister Rafal Trazaskowski (second from right)  

Poland is open to dialogue but EU benefits restrictions are illegal and unfair

Rafal Trzaskowski
The report will embarrass the Home Secretary, Theresa May  

Surprise, surprise: tens of thousands of illegal immigrants have 'dropped off' the Home Office’s radar

Nigel Farage
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m