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21 December 2015

Faith in the NHS?

Faith in the NHS?

Danny Webster talks to Dr Nick Land, medical director of the Tees, Esk & Wear Valley Foundation Trust about faith, leadership and the NHS.

What areas of your work are you particularly passionate about?

In my work with people with learning disabilities my passion is developing really good quality local services, focussing them in the community where people live and integrating those services to their everyday life. I chose to specialise in psychiatry because it was an area not many people wanted to go into and was seen as quite challenging. After my training, along with another Christian colleague, I decided that rather than stay where there was already a very good service, we would go together to somewhere where there wasn’t a very good service and work hard to make it better. From being appointed as a consultant and taking on leadership positions, I’ve been passionate about getting senior clinicians and managers working together to make the best possible use of resources and developing the best possible services.  

Tell me about your current role and responsibilities.

I'm medical director of a large mental health and learning disability trust in the North East of England, which serves about two million people. Together with the rest of the board I'm responsible for delivering the quality of services for our patients and making sure we do so within the financial and regulatory framework, within which we operate. I still do a small amount of direct clinical work, but I see my role as a continuation of my passions, providing leadership to a large team of consultant psychiatrists and other doctors and leading the development of services, all focussed on making things better for patients.

What are the challenges and opportunities in the NHS today?

The NHS is under considerable pressure, with the real challenge of continuing to improve the quality of the service with less resources. Although the resources have been kept the same in real terms, because of a growing population and a population with growing needs, there is less to go around. The second big challenge is one of morale in the health service, most of the stories being told about the NHS are largely negative. What's interesting is that if you look objectively and compare the function of the NHS with other health care systems around the world, it still comes out as a very efficient, effective and frankly good value health service.

As Christians we have considerable opportunities to show leadership in this context. One of the reasons is that we can have a different perspective if we think clearly about God's view of work. If we don't we can get a distorted view and feel downhearted when things go wrong, and if work becomes so important it gets in the way of God it becomes an idol.

Jesus' work of redemption, his ongoing work of redemption, applies not just to us personally, but also to the whole world and everything in it, so our work can be redeemed as we put it in the context of our relationship with God. While there are many good things about the NHS, it's still run by fallen people in a fallen world, so things are sometimes going to go wrong. What we need are Christian leaders who recognise that, but instead of allowing that to derail them, they accept the reality and are still prepared to get on and make a difference.

What approach do you think Christians should have towards public leadership?

It's important we recognise leadership and administration are listed among the gifts of the Holy Spirit and some people are given to serve others. One of the risks of being a leader is that one can get things out of perspective, so for me a key principle is to be a servant leader and doing things not out of selfish ambition or to make your own life better, but actually putting other people first. This means you listen to other people's views, and you positively consider that they may be right. It also means you're willing to work with other people to accomplish what they are doing.

What can we learn from the Bible about leadership in public life?

I'd start with Romans 13, which teaches us that government and governance are part of God's common grace for all of humanity. There's the special grace that Jesus Christ, through his death on the cross, but there are things that are part of limiting the consequences of the fall and I think you can regard the NHS as part of that common grace. In terms of individuals, Nehemiah is fascinating. He was already a senior civil servant within the king's court, but heard there was a great need elsewhere and was prepared to leave his security and his comfort and go to a difficult place to work with a group of people who were discouraged in their job rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He's an example of someone who in God's power did a huge number of things: he's director of a huge civil engineering project, he sets up a welfare system, he ensures justice, looks after defence, and he
also very much provides the structure in which the people return to worship God. Joseph is also very interesting. First, he was working in the seven years of prosperity and then he tried to make things work in seven years of very limited resources – sometimes it feels a lot like that in the NHS.

Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon and calls on them to work for the peace and prosperity of the city God has put them in. We have to be careful whenever we engage in governing structures because whether private companies, public services, local or national government, they can sometimes be quite damaging. But as Christians we are called to work in those places in leadership positions. Jesus said we are called to be salt and light in the world, both salt in terms of stopping decay and light in terms of illuminating that which is around us.

What can local churches do to help Christians become public leaders?

Churches often think about how they equip people for leadership within the church, but in terms of being salt and light in society they don't think about how to build people up as leaders. One part of this is prayer, that's enormously important. Another is to ensure they are providing good biblical principles for what it means to be a leader and what behaviours are expected of a leader in society. My friend and I who came to work on Teeside have met to pray for our work every month for the last 22 years, we pray for each other and we pray for our services and we have seen how God answers our prayers. A final thing is to start telling positive stories. Too often we focus on what's gone wrong, for the NHS are we telling the stories of really hard working staff making a difference to millions of people every year?

Only 9 per cent of evangelicals have heard teaching about being healthy in their church – do you think there is a responsibility on churches to do more in this area?

We're taught our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we have a responsibility for keeping them healthy, both in body and in mind. While we have this principle, we shouldn't be in the business of harshly condemning those who for whatever reason are sick or unwell. There are lots of things going on in society that are potentially unhealthy for people's psychological wellbeing and as churches we are in a good position to help people achieve psychological and spiritual health.

In our survey we found 98 per cent of evangelicals believe in miraculous healing, how should Christians combine belief in the miraculous with engaging with the healthcare system?

I see our healthcare system as something God has given to us to help counteract the illness and pain that are effects of the fall. So when people are sick we pray for them and we pray that God will heal them, and sometimes that will be spectacular and miraculous, but much more often it would seem to be done through good quality healthcare, through the work of doctors, nurses, physios, so the whole system is absolutely vital.

The Evangelical Alliance is passionate about encouraging and equipping Christians for leadership in all forms of public life. We're putting on events for public leaders, speaking to churches about why this is part of the Church's mission, and producing resources to help Christians connect their faith and leadership for the good of society. If you'd like to find out more or have a speaker come to your church, please get in touch with Danny Webster, by emailing d.webster@eauk.org.

We're putting on two public leadership gatherings for people aged 18-35 involved in leadership outside the Church. These will take place 18-20 March in Staffordshire and 15-17 April in Northern Ireland. These weekends are designed to connect public leaders together and provide teaching and support for their leadership. Each weekend will involve input from Christians leading in public life about their role and the challenges they have faced as well as opportunities to develop your own passion and plan.

If you're leading in business, politics, education, healthcare, media, the arts or just about any area of society find out how you can take part at thepublicleader.com/gathering.

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