The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, ‘When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.’ But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, ‘Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?’ The midwives said to Pharaoh, ‘Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.’ So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.
This passage is the background to why Moses’ mother hid him in the bulrushes. Shiphrah and Purah are the only midwives mentioned in the Bible and yet there must have always been a need for someone to support women in childbirth. Thankfully, the midwives’ dilemma is not one facing anyone in the NHS today. However this passage does resonate with the theme of Working Together for patients. The Hebrew midwives are working as a team. They support women through childbirth but they go further than that; they stand up to the king and do what they believe to be right ( even when it means spinning a tale to authority!).
In the 75 years of the NHS, the old strict hierarchy has changed. As a student nurse in the 1970s I wasn’t encouraged to question decisions or ward routines. Over 40 years, things have changed with the growth of professional autonomy and accountability.
Health professionals have a role of advocacy for their patients. Like the Hebrew midwives, that can mean stepping out of line, saying when something isn’t right or isn’t working, understanding a patient’s needs and standing up for them when necessary. Teamwork now involves valuing all members of a team and their professional skills and knowledge.
A patient years ago said to me ‘You nurses are the salt of the earth’. Not so much angels but real, caring and practical. Health care is about getting alongside people and supporting them in their needs whether in acute or long-term illness, childbirth or health promotion. Even in the briefest of encounters, such as giving Covid vaccines, as I am proud to have done in retirement, it is still about working in a team to support people as individuals.
Lord God We give thanks for the work of the NHS over its 75 year history. Thank you for health workers who have the courage to stand up for what is right, to challenge authority at times and so to make change happen. Pray for those making difficult decisions about health care in the coming years. Amen
Ruth Tompsett Registered General Nurse is church treasurer at Newport Pagnell URC