Light and hope of the NHS

Observations on Indian doctors

Every week, I receive an application for a clinical attachment by an Indian doctor newly arrived in this country. How long such doctors will keep coming - when the medical training available to them in their own country is probably superior (and if it isn't yet, soon will be) to anything found here - is a matter of speculation. The truth, however, is that Britain is entirely parasitic on the rest of the world for its medical and nursing staff.

The doctors who apply to me do so in old-fashioned English, greatly the superior in charm to anything written by young British doctors. There is a touching naivety about what they write: despite all they must have seen in their homeland, far grimmer physically than anything to be found here, they are not street smart in the modern sense, and are much the better for it. In short, they sound as if they have character rather than its debased and shallow modern equivalent, personality.

"I have learnt from experience," wrote one of them to me, "that honesty and diligence always pay off. Reliability, teamwork and love for my fellow beings has been my motto." I doubt that this is boasting or mere vanity, of the kind that is now officially encouraged among, indeed required of, medical staff in compulsory self-appraisals, in the government's diabolical plan to reduce the medical profession to its own ethical level.

"Parents and teachers are my inspirers," the young doctor goes on. What young Briton would dare to write such a thing nowadays, even in the unlikely event that he felt it? And yet, what civilisation can survive without such modest respect for elders and for the accumulated wisdom and experience of the past? "I am aware of my limitations but have a strong belief and faith in my capabilities." That is just what one wants of a young doctor.

If this is naivety, it is naivety that will lead in the end to far greater mental, cultural, emotional and spiritual sophistication than the trivial, smart alec culture of modern Britain. In my experience, at least, these doctors have better manners, and a truer appreciation of life, than their young British counterparts; their sense of humour is subtler and deeper, too, and they carry within them an attractive sense of irony born of an instinctive understanding of the inherent limitations of human existence, which is now almost completely lost in the British population. In short, they are much more like the British used to be when they had virtues as well as vices.

If India is not the light and hope of the world, exactly, it is certainly the light and hope of the NHS; in fact, the only such light and hope.

This article first appeared in the 23 February 2004 issue of the New Statesman, End of the sex war