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The NHS, Mary Seacole, and hospital ministry

24 October 2014


From Cllr Frank McManus

Sir, - Your leader comment "NHS in crisis" (17 October) notes that the service "was once run on Marxist lines - from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".

This precept is one for civilised behaviour in any human society, and is explicitly Christian, since St Paul at 2 Corinthians 8.14 commended just such give-and-take: "by an equality, that . . . your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want". Paul thus predated Marx.

In this connection, a place should surely be found for R. H. Tawney's Religion and the Rise of Capitalism among the 100 best Christian books. If we heed its message, we might just snatch victory from the jaws of what seems the world's imminent defeat by the false god of rampant monetarism.


(Reader Emeritus)

Locksley House, 97 Longfield Road

Todmorden OL14 6NDj


From Lynn McDonald

Sir, - The Revd Dame Sarah Mullally strangely thinks my Mary Seacole: The making of the myth "one-sided" (Books, 17 October); yet she had nothing but praise for Ron Ramdin's enthusiastic one-sided biography of Mary Seacole, and in her review of it (Books, 24 March 2006) repeated the standard embellishments and outright errors now commonly used in the Seacole campaign.

Dame Sarah did acknowledge my extensive use of primary (meaning without the later embellishments) sources, but still considers that Seacole should be a model in healthcare. How could your reviewer, as a former Chief Nursing Officer, condone the use of dehydrating substances (emetics and purgatives) as cholera treatment, and Seacole's resort to lead acetate and mercury chloride in "remedies"? Seacole herself acknowledged "lamentable blunders".

Dame Sarah complained that I did not ask pro-Seacole nursing leaders to respond. Yet they have the Nursing Standard, the organ of the Royal College of Nursing, which has published some 50 items promoting Seacole for every one even mentioning Florence Nightingale.

Seacole was an admirable, adventurous, independent woman, and her life deserves celebration, but she was never a nurse or health-care advocate, let alone a medal-winning war heroine, as is now taught in English schools, including Church of England schools.


Flat 15

30-31 Cartwright Gardens

London WC1H 9EH


From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, - Your feature (17 October) by the chaplains reminded me of a visit I made in 1970 as a curate to a parishioner in the Alder Hey children's hospital's cystic-fibrosis ward, where the patients died in their teens.

The Sister, worried I might pray for miraculous recovery, called me to her room, and said she had started as an agnostic, but become a Christian when she saw dying children given grace to comfort their distressed parents. In hope, I practised the ministry of the empty speech bubble. With the terminally sick, we are on holy ground.


39 St Michaels Road

Liverpool L17 7AN

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