I believe there is a real need for dreamers, poets and writers. These people – men, women and children – draw the pictures of what tomorrow can be. They offer maps and landmarks to the future. While some may see them as hopeless utopians they are actually the midwives of new possibilities. This article is about a book that helped changed the landscape.
The book is ‘The Citadel’ by A J Cronin. Cronin was a doctor and a very popular and respected author. The book written in 1937 tells the story of a young caring doctor Andrew Manson who works in Wales. He works among the people and helps them. Later he moves to London and is tempted by money. He starts to seek money from the wealthy and this starts to corrupt him. He re-finds himself and despite major challenges walks ahead in his old values and commitment. The book was seen as a damning indictment on the old health system. Cronin stated that, “I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug … The horrors and inequities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system.”
The book was a bestseller and sold over 150, 000 copies in the first three months in Britain. It was also a hit in the USA and Europe. The book was made into a Oscar winning film in 1938. A Gallup poll in 1938 revealed that those polled said the book impressed them more than any other book apart from the Bible. Many people have argued that the book laid the foundations for the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Both Cronin and Aneurin Bevan ( the Minister of Health from 1945 to 1951 ) had worked at Tredegar Cottage Hospital though at different times. Tredegar was used as a model for the NHS. The book showed the grave problems with the old system and pointed to something better. The foundation of the NHS was due to a number of factors including people after a World War wishing for and expecting something better. Cronin’s work filled the air with a critique and question that supported the foundation of the NHS. It was part of a movement, people and energy that birthed this service for the people.
There are a number of things that face us here. There is the power of ideas and the written word. Cronin’s book gave voice to the feelings and experiences of many. He became a voice for change. This teaches us that our words and what we share can shape the future. We may never achieve the effect of an A J Cronin but our voice and dreams can be part of a movement for the best care and culture for all. Ours may be a small cry and impact but together we can move mountains. Vincent Van Gogh the artist noted how ‘Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.’ The impact of ‘The Citadel’ tells us also that we will never know what our good actions and honest words will achieve. Cronin when writing his book would not have realised how his book would help a shift for the good and health of so many. To step forward and speak the truth, seek the best and create the vision is what we must do. Cronin’s work was a key element in a diverse movement hungry and visionary about change. This also tells us we need each other and diverse alliances around common themes.
When A J Cronin wrote patients would have had no voice. Things are changing and we have – thankfully – a growing patients movement. Carers also would have had no real voice and today carers are often overlooked. We hope the voice of carers can feature more and more in the future and services. Today we have many voices on social media and elsewhere pointing out the faults and flaws in the systems we have. Do all these words connect? Do they generate change? My guess is that some do. The reasons why some words fall and some reach is an interesting one.
Healthcare is all about humans. It will never be as perfect as we all would like. Each generation needs someone or something for it to maintain it’s moral compass. The 19th century writer John Henry Newman spoke of ‘ to live is to change and to change often is to become more perfect.’ This is a good charter of how we must always seek change and innovation. We never reach Nirvana but we can improve things and help more people.
The message of A J Cronin is that one person can make a difference, that words and ideas when linked to wider forces can change the picture before us and that we need to keep on speaking the truth and seeking authentic renewal of our services. If we do this we will contribute to the dreams, poetry and writing of tomorrow. And not only contribute - we will help write and author them.
John Walsh, York Street Practice
This post arose through transatlantic dialogue and reflection. Sometime work with others brings a freshness, wisdom and vision. This collaboration was and is one of those times. I would like to dedicate this blog to the three good people involved.The first is Marie Ennis O’Connor (@JBBC ) who connected people together for this to happen. The second is Dr Brian Stork an American physician (@StorkBrian) who is writing on this subject in an American context for his blog. The third participant is @HealthIsCool who offered such kind and helpful advice about format, content and presentation. It is a joy to be connected to these friends. The blog is all about a message which linked to a movement changed history for the better. I hope that we all find our messages and movements and do likewise.