7 August, 2020

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Nye Bevan; Man Who Made Health, A Human Right  

By Sarath de Alwis

Sarath de Alwis

In Lockdown land our present is blurred. Our future is shapeless. The purposes of today’s essay is intended for those poised to inherit this land. Naturally it includes my six grandchildren. They must be reminded that what we take for granted today as a basic human right – ‘universal health care’ was an ideal that was passionately  resisted by market economics and all so called parliamentary democrats and professional physicians. Until the advent of universal health care, disease was an economic opportunity. Medicine was a service to be paid for by the afflicted.  

This essay acquires an added urgency. Last evening, I had a remarkable conversation with a great Civil Society activist. He never ceases to extol the virtues of freedom and liberty. In our exchange yesterday, he reminded me of the corrosive side of human nature – that refuses to concede the inherent evil of  creating wealth in the hands of a few driven by the motive of profit as the end game.  

The poor learned man totally missed the point so effectively made by the virus COVID-19. Proliferation of the damned infection is not  profit driven! 

The very word virus has a masculinity of its own. It only needs a good advertising triad to market a hero who could rescue the damsel in viral distress.

I return to the subject of the essay. The British Prime Minster Boris Johnson has been cured of the viral infection. On leaving hospital he made a statement.   

“I am leaving hospital after the NHS saved my life”, he told the British People. He described his recent encounter with Covid-19 as “an experience which could have gone either way.”  

I posted this videoclip together with the  BBC report  on my Facebook page with the comment: Boris the Tory must remember Nye Bevan the Welsh Miner who created the NHS.

To my utter total shock, two young friends responded ‘never heard of Nye Bevan looked up google, very interesting.‘ 

I thought everybody knew Nye Bevan. We live and learn.  

Aneurin Bevan the Minster of Health of the post war labor government is the man who framed, formulated,  and founded the  ‘National Health Service’ of Britain. 

In the course of time, it became the gold standard for state funded universal health care in all parts of the British Empire then quietly on the path to self-rule.  

Aneurin Bevin is one of those rare politicians who did not die. He lives, even today in Britain’s national health service.

 I can think of two Sri Lankan parallels. C.W. W Kannangara who lives in our system of free education and T.B. Illangaratne who lives in our largest pension fund the EPF. 

Just as our Kanangara and Illangratne, Aneurin Bevan  too is not to be found among the remembered gods of hired historians. They continue to inhabit the breathing breasts of the toiling masses. 

The phrase ‘toiling masses’ is important. The state considers Corvid 19 to be the one great existential hazard. To the toiling masses, it is only one of many hazards – a point that seems to escape the profound minds of our ruling elite.  

Aneurin Bevan was the Minister for Health in the post-war government of Clement Atlee. It was this government that granted independence to  India and Sri Lanka.

The son of a coal miner, Bevan was a ferocious defender of social justice and the rights of the working class. A phrase now so out of fashion with the residual remnants of our left.  

As a coal miner and the son of a coal miner he knew the price of breathing dust and dirt. 

“Illness is neither an indulgence for which people have to pay, nor an offence for which they should be penalised, but a misfortune the cost of which should be shared by the community.”

No society can legitimately call itself civilized if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.

“How can wealth persuade poverty to use its political power to keep wealth in power? Here lies the whole art of Conservative politics in the twentieth century.”

Aneurin Bevan was born on 15 November 1897 in the coal mining town of Tredegar in Wales. His working-class family had first-hand experience of the problems of poverty and disease. Unlike those of a Vasudeva or a DEW Gunasekara his socialist credentials were part of his genome. 

Bevan left school at 13. That was what was expected of him in pre-world war Britain then presiding over a vast empire. He began working in a local colliery. He became a trades union activist. He was fortunate to win a scholarship to study in London. It was during this period that he was drawn to the idea and the promise of socialism. 

During the post-depression General Strike of 1926, eight years after the 1918 pandemic, Bevan emerged as one of the leaders of the South Wales miners. In 1929, Bevan was elected as the Labour member of parliament for Ebbw Vale. In 1934 he married another Labour MP, Jennie Lee who is remembered for abolishing theatre censor ship and the founding of the open university.  She authored the book  ‘My life with Nye.’ 

The idea of a free National Health Service was born when Nye Bevan held his dying father in his arms. 

The man who later became Britain’s greatest ever socialist politicians quietly whispered, ‘Got to do something about this, can’t go on like this.’

Aneurin Bevan was the most remarkable socialist leader in the English speaking world in the 20th century. In my student days Michael Foot’s biography of Aneurin Bevan was a must read to understand what socialism held for the future. 

Now in lockdown melancholia, I recall the day, the month , the year I read which book any by whom. This is time threatened by the virus to look back at things done and also things that were left undone. I don’t remember who said it. But it is worth reembarking it. “We cling to the present out of wariness of the past”. 

These are confusing times. I watch the 7 o’clock news on TV channel ‘Derana.’  It is not because I want to be informed of the truth. I watch ‘Derana’ Channel because I want to know the truth I have to live with. 

Nowadays, I rarely leave the reassuring comfort of my desk top computer.

But trapped in this satisfying solitude I recall Aneurin Bevan who made it possible for Boris Johnson to survive the virus. Then I remember our own Dr. N.M. Perera who distributed ‘parippu’ to the starving malarial peasantry in the ‘Hathara Korale’.  

The lockdown has provoked a deeper need within me to enter that silent space where dead heroes of a long-forgotten past of my youth come alive. Maybe it happens to you as well.

I doubt if it happens to Dinesh Gunawardena whose father refused to beat the drum for a ‘Flat Footed Kandyan Dancer” who tried to thwart his ‘Paddy Lands Act’.  

If it happens, to you, dear reader, you will know that it is incumbent upon all of us to remember the lives we have lived. 

That brings me to the subject of President’s counsel  Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe. He is a very fortunate constitutional scholar. He is fortunate because he is also a politician. He does not have to remember the lives he has led. I doubt if the poor man, has kept a count of his many lives or should we call them avatars!  

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Latest comments

  • 3
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    Good to read an article like this hen we are hugging the laptop the hole day and every day these days.

    • 2
      1

      Is the ‘W’ key on your laptop’s keyboard not working?

    • 1
      1

      This woman Apawithra Wanni is a disgrace to lanken womanhood.

      The manner she gets on with people and how she shamelessly makes public statements and then again, cause lots of unexpected mistakes are a greate mistake of this govt.
      But with lack of goodies on that side, except that PENISLESS MAN, though got educated at Oxford, what can they do ?
      :
      How can that be ethical, that BP Basil to ALLOW lead in DISTRIUBTION stuff, recalling the manner, how he damaged the previous govt… his was known as Mr 10% every where, not a single man of SIRISENAs adminsitraton was able to send an official and check his ASSETs in the US.
      All these should NOT be neglected by grass root level of srilankens, who have now been starving not having the 3 meals. These men had then been telling the world that we are a MID INCOME earning nation, but today the blatant lie is revealed.
      Over 40% of the people in this country are under poverty levels.

      We point the finger at Indians, but we ourselves know that our PICTUREs are no different to that of VILLAGE corners in India.
      Only good thing is thanks to FREE EDUCATION, people can read and write compared to masses in India and Pakistan.
      All in all, our people should AT LEAST now be IMPROVED their awarness regarding Rajapakshe abusive politics.

      Rajaakshes are a failure to lanken POLITICS basta.

  • 4
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    “Aneurin Bevan was the most remarkable socialist leader in the English speaking world in the 20th century.”
    ]
    People live in different universes, don’t they?
    ]
    Hands up anyone who has heard of ‘Aneurin Bevan’ socialist or not!

    • 2
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      As Sarath says, universal free health-care is a good thing. Very much so. But in the UK it is funded by taxes, I believe around 40% average. Would it be possible here, whatever the hype by interested parties? We have gone a bit overboard on the “free” idea by including even university education and guaranteed jobs for graduates. None of that is available in the UK or even in Communist China. Which politician is willing to risk his neck by taxing govt employees and dumping “free” education to provide real free health-care, or dumping “free” health-care to provide real free education?

      • 0
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        OC
        Tax rates are
        £0 – £11,500 0%
        £11,501 – £45,000 20% (basic rate)
        £45,001 – £150,000 40% (higher rate)
        Over £150,000 45% (additional rate)
        Not many pay the higher rate and even fewer the additional rate.
        Taxes pay for other things including education and social security.
        UK went back on free higher education through generous student grants gradually since the 1990s. The Overseas students were made to pay full fees from the 1970s, but that was a fair fee. Now it is much higher.
        *
        Education is social investment. The society has a right to expect fair return.
        If people want to make profit out of it they should pay back in some way. A scheme of 5 years of compulsory service is not a bad idea; otherwise the fees should be recovered with interest based on the true cost (including many hidden overheads).

        • 1
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          SJ,
          Yes, as you say, those who who receive free higher education should pay for it at least partly. A country like ours simply doesn’t have the capacity to supply everything free.The sea of debt we are mired in is a result of this sort of policy.
          But which politician will take the risk?

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      Neither free health care nor free education is a true human right (any thing to the contrary in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights notwithstanding). These are benefits and priviledges provided by a benevolent society out of its wealth (accumulated from taxes paid by the citizens, more by the rich than the poor). Food is a greater human need than health care, but it is not considered a human right in the sense of being entitled to free food. Why not? True human rights are things like right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence, right to freedom of opinion and speech, to believe in and practise a religion of one’s choice (with due consideration to the rights of others), etc.

      Multiplying “human rights” such as free education and free health care carries with it the undesirable consequence that it inculcates an entitled culture. Just take a look at our eternally protesting university students for proof. Rather than calling such benefits and privileges human rights we should be teaching their recipients to be grateful to the society that provide them (specifically the tax payers).

    • 2
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      ☝️✌👍🖐
      —-
      Nye Bevan was definitely a well-loved person when I was growing up in London of the 40s + 50s (+ my parents were Labour Party supporters.) We took the NHS for granted & its influence spilled over into other areas too. Free education included all our text books + exercise books, free milk at school, free cod liver oil & something else, at school, free school “dinners” for the first 3 children in a family. Probably school uniforms, too, but I’m not sure about this.

      We always had a GP nearby whom we could consult both in his surgery or call home if necessary; + medicines were free. As was hospitalization. We children had never known anything else + took it all for granted until we emigrated in 1955.

      Interestingly, however, it was, in fact, a Conservative Health Minister who first proposed a National Health system, during the War. I dont know if Bevan & his team (there’s a guy whose name escapes me now, who actually drew up/or implemented the system) were influenced by that, but, whatever it is, Nye will always be thought of first when we recall the origins of the NHS.

      And my mother, 102 in June, is still benefitting from it, with a free operation + hospitalization 2 years ago.

      Let’s hope Boris’s recent experience really influences him to support + improve it.

    • 1
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      P.S. to Ray

      Perhaps it is the Beveridge Report that I was thinking of, that came out during the war, & led to the development of Welfare State + the NHS.

      Incidentally, my mother seems to be managing pretty well, despite the huge number of deaths in the UK. She lives alone in her flat in London & is in good spirits. I think the war years in early life inured people to deprivation. I can remember, as small children, for instance, been wrapped up warmly in bed all day because we frequently had no heating.

  • 3
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    Thank you, Mr Sarath de Alwis for affirming values that we have always held sacred.
    .
    However, isn’t it true that there are essentially two approaches to dealing with COVID-19. What we have heard most talked about is preventing infections from spreading so as to minimise deaths now.
    .
    Yet we occasionally hear about “herd immunity”. That may be the reasoning that is put forward, usually irrationally, by Donald Trump. But they do have a point. If the Economy is run down to ground zero owing to nobody working, many will die of simple starvation.
    .
    From what I have gathered, herd immunity means eugenics and the “survival of the fittest.” I myself am old, so I will be one who is marked to die soon, so that my grandchildren can yet be assured of a reasonable life. I don’t think that this approach is ever presented in terms of the stark choices that we are faced with.
    .
    I certainly appreciate your efforts to remember with gratitude the efforts of Kannangara and Illangratne. When we were kids, the latter was mercilessly pilloried within “our social group”. If we are going to deny that legacy let us at least know where we are heading.
    .

    • 0
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      Dear Mr SM,
      .
      what have been talking about your death on and on while we ve been fighiting to help the people across europe by introducing how they could contain the germ not being spread further.

      Please be positive, I know this stuff well since my colleagues and relatives are among the physicians that treat COVID 19 patients in Germany and Uk: I am informed by them and I have most updates.
      :
      It was a gerater mistake that UK soledly focused on “Herd immunity” and let hundreds already die – that may be one of the several reasons why some smaller countries ended up being caught by unprecedented numbers little later, because they thought if UK as pioneers in medical research would do so, why not us.

      See looking at the death tolls being added every 24 hours seems not a a decline in the US and UK so far.
      Germany s level of revoering rate is over 60% while all others remain 25-30% ofcourse with exception in CHINA and South Korea.
      Contd.

      Please dont think that you would easily be affected by the virus – there are lot more nonagerarians, that hope for survival. I know one patient who will be 100 years in a month – still in good health though being infected by CHINESE virus (I call it C-virus not because that Trump the laughing stock of the world is saying, but with provable reasons). Time will reveal how they made it in a lab in CHINA.

  • 5
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    —–Thank you Mr. Alwis. –for inspiring our minds to seek where, when, and whom the due gratitude be bestowed on. ——-Absolutely this is a great and succinctly written piece which reminds us all to do more digging to find who are the unsung heroes of our time.

    ——–Of course “These are confusing times” —you claim that you “watch the 7 o’clock news on TV channel ‘Derana” to know the truth you are destined to live with in the blessed island.

    ——I watch “Derana” because I want to know what is fake and how an untruth is shamelessly manipulated into some kind of truth…and forced down the throat of 6.9 million gullible Sinhala Buddhists that are daily glued to “Patha Derana”———and hail cowards as heroes——

    —-Bottom line is — may be –we both have a similar purpose in watching “Patha Deranaa”

  • 3
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    Excellent, informative, and timely article that all must read! We should be determined to protect, safeguard, and continue the universal healthcare and free education systems in Sri Lanka. Our present and future generations should find out the ways to improve both systems by having a strong national policy on both systems.
    PS: Covid-19 is a wake-up call for many wealthy nations including the US where healthcare is a problem for the poor!

    • 0
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      Not bad, especially when you look at bits and pieces collected from various Wikipedia pages.
      /
      Great effort Mr Alwis.
      /
      We need more ‘Bahusthrutas’ like you.

  • 0
    3

    Capitalist or Socialist, there are two services the state must provide free of charge. HEALTH CARE and PRIMARY EDUCATION. Fundamentally both are situations where one cannot help oneself. Why live in a ‘society’ if you are not taken care of when you are helpless? Moreover it greately benefits the society as a whole. While health care may be permitted to operate parallely by private sector ‘Primary’ Education must be ONLY in the hands of the state. Government should takeover PRIMARY part of the present International school system. As for the SECONDARY part onwards private sector may be permitted to operate parallely.

    Soma

    • 1
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      somass

      “Capitalist or Socialist, there are two services the state must provide free of charge. HEALTH CARE and PRIMARY EDUCATION. “

      What is the point of having both in the absence of morality, safety, security, equal opportunity and system of justice?
      Even if everyone has both in the absence of safety and security who is going protect laymen from you?

      “Government should takeover PRIMARY part of the present International school system.”

      So that you could brainwash the kids at an early stage of their development and the students could suffer from induced “arrested development”

      • 0
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        NV
        Reminds me of your child soldiers.

        Soma

  • 4
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    Dear Mr de Alwis,

    Thank you. We need to remind ourselves of the past to appreciate the present.

    The concept of modern government sponsored hospitals is NOT a 19th century innovation.

    The United States National Library of Medicine credits the hospital as being a product of medieval Islamic civilization. Compared to contemporaneous Christian institutions, which were poor and sick relief facilities offered by some monasteries, the Islamic hospital was a more elaborate institution with a wider range of functions. In Islam, there was a moral imperative to treat the ill regardless of financial status. Islamic hospitals tended to be large, urban structures, and were largely secular institutions, many open to all, whether male or female, civilian or military, child or adult, rich or poor, Muslim or non-Muslim. The Islamic hospital served several purposes, as a center of medical treatment, a home for patients recovering from illness or accidents, an insane asylum, and a retirement home with basic maintenance needs for the aged and infirm.

    Hospitals were forbidden by law to turn away patients who were unable to pay.

  • 0
    4

    UK Population 1940 /46 million 2020 just under 68 million hence lie the problem of financing public health.
    The welfare state is a big part of British family life, with 20.3 million families receiving some kind of benefit (64% of all families), about 8.7 million of them pensioners.Apr 6, 2013

    • 0
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      L
      Pensions are mostly from contributions during working life.

  • 2
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    Without taking anything away from Bevan, one should also remember that the NHS and a host of other social security measures in the UK is part of the working class struggle, to which Labour responded.
    They were reformist success stories that won massive public support so that until Mrs Thatcher’s time nobody dared to tamper with them.
    The betrayal of the NHS was primarily a neo-liberal project undertaken by the Tories amid growing corporate pressure for ‘less government’.
    Labour had a right to claim credit, but not under the likes of Blair and Brown. Its last hope for a social democratic identity has been destroyed with the defeat of Corbyn.
    Let us also note that the running down of the NHS is partly to blame for the poor performance in the ‘COVID-19 crisis’.
    Boris J owes the NHS an apology on behalf of his party, which is yet forthcoming.

    • 0
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      Blair and Brown were Thatcher’s children who successfully hijacked the Labour party. It is one of Thatcher’s best legacies that she got a Labour Prime Minister (Blair) to implement her ideas very effectively. I have a slight soft spot for Brown, because he worked a little towards writing off debt of very poor countries. That still doesn’t offset his part in the great crime of the Iraq war.

  • 1
    0

    Nivard Cabral may be the next TB Illangarathne for recommending that 40% of The EPF is given back now to the workers . The Brilliant Dr Harsha de Silva has endorsed it? Are we good to go in sunny LANKA with the one family at the helm . Only God can save Sri Lanka now.

  • 1
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    Quote – ” I watch the 7 o’clock news on TV channel ‘Derana’. It is not because I want to be informed of the truth. I watch ‘Derana’ channel because I want to know the truth I have to live with”.

  • 3
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    Sarath
    Nye Bevan; Man Who Made Health, A Human Right
    You are getting carried away.
    1) Nye Bevan didn’t make Health a Human Right. He is a Household Name here in the UK and he made it available to every one here in the UK FREE at the point of delivery unlike in the USA where if you don’t have Medical Insurance you wont be treated which is the case even when people are dying of COVID -19.
    Definition of Human Rights is as follows which is non existent in Sri Lanka under Gotha. He cant claim fame through the back door.
    Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to every person in the world, from birth until death. They apply regardless of where you are from, what you believe or how you choose to live your life. … These basic rights are based on shared values like dignity, fairness, equality, respect and independence.
    Article 3 ECHR : Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.
    The only link between Health & Human Right is via Article 3 of ECHR referring to Inhuman or Degrading treatment and Gotha under the Guise of dealing with COVID-19 is in violation of Article 3 by allowing People to suffer from starvation ( which I posted in my comment yesterday) and from what I have heard some are dying which is an inhuman & degrading treatment.
    COVID -19 is Chinese made and Starvation in Sri Lanka is Gotha made with more to come. SAD

    • 0
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      “COVID -19 is Chinese made”
      Stupidity has no cure.

      • 1
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        SJ you Stupid Junk

        Tell that to the World that COVID 19 didnt start in China but it started in Hambanthotta.just as STARVATION in Sri Lanka under Gotha. Lying by China supportrd by WHO has cost WHO $500 in funding given by Trump. For your information you Idiot Chinese Economy shrank by 6.8% and Gotha is ging round with Begging Bowl

        • 0
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          Kali: At the very early stages of the outbreak, China got it wrong. They reprimanded the doctor who sounded the alarm. That doctor is now dead. This was wrong. But as soon as they realized this was a new and highly infectious virus they alerted the WHO and gave the world a lot of information about infection spread, clinical outcomes, demography of patients, genome sequence of the virus and many other pieces of the scientific puzzle. I can assure you their science and speed were very impressive. You can pretend this is not the case, but journals like the Lancet have publications you may want to check. This is a NEW virus, so they would not have had an example to go by. Early parts of an exponential graph has low gradients, so it is difficult to tell potential danger without other sources of knowledge. Europe and the USA on the other hand had such sources — from China and countries close by. Several weeks of warnings. Britain and the USA had several weeks of lead time, not just from China, but from from Italy and Spain. But they did nothing. Trump banned travel from China for publicity stunt, without seeing that infection into the USA was actually coming from Italy. They could not even put in place testing and contact tracing that the WHO strongly advocates – not just for the fun of it, but based on very clear science and experience elsewhere. They cannot even get their act together to get protective equipment for their front line staff.

  • 1
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    (I am re-posting this comment as I seem to have inadvertently posted it earlier as a reply to another reader’s comment.)

    Neither free health care nor free education is a true human right (any thing to the contrary in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights notwithstanding). These are benefits and priviledges provided by a benevolent society out of its wealth (accumulated from taxes paid by the citizens, more by the rich than by the poor). Food is a greater human need than health care, but it is not considered a human right in the sense of being entitled to free food. Why not? True human rights are things like right to a fair trial, presumption of innocence, right to freedom of opinion and speech, to believe in and practise a religion of one’s choice (with due consideration to the rights of others), etc.

    Multiplying “human rights” such as free education and free health care carries with it the undesirable consequence that it inculcates an entitled culture. Just take a look at our eternally protesting university students for proof. Rather than calling such benefits and privileges human rights we should be teaching their recipients to be grateful to the society that provide them (specifically the tax payers).

  • 1
    0

    Perhaps Mr Alwis would care to tell us the extent to which Public Health should be free. To a greater degree than in the past, rapid advances in medical science and health services precludes its delivery to all those needing such services. Therefore, there is a need for rationing. Pricing and ability to pay is the answer under Neoliberalism. Somebody has to play God under socialist medicine. Political clout and ‘influence’ are the rationing principle in dysfunctional societies such as ours. Universal healthcare of the same standard to everybody may have been possible when medicine was less advanced. But now it is just a myth.

  • 0
    3

    Alwis has done a good job of educating the younger reader about some important things from history. However, no one should be thinking however that the British NHS is a great, world class health service. Its better than nothing but in some parts of the UK its just appalling. This is mainly because the UK has brought in or allowed the migration of millions of people who live off the system and contribute nothing. These people come from former British colonies such as Terroristan (aka Pakistan) and live like medieval thugs and always help themselves to the NHS to the fullest.

    Hope Alwis is getting used to life after the Presidential elections in Lanka. If the reader were to believe him they should be living in a chaotic, despotic junta now, under Alwis bete noir, Gotaby. How is Gotaby treating you Alwis? All good?

    • 0
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      Dearest Jay Chambers,
      I am so glad you are alive and well in UK. I am sure you remember with great fondness your experience with our firm, Colonic Irrigation PLC. the last time you visited our lovely island. “No pleasure without pain ” is our motto.

    • 2
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      Jay Chamber of Racist,

      Pakistan was good when they helped Sri Lanka when Tamil Tigers were running riot. I still remember in the late 1990s when tigers were poised to overrun the Jaffna Fort it was Pakistan who helped us by sending ship loads of arms. Prabhakaran openly said that they were thwarted by their enemies’ friend.

      India, on the other hand, sponsored and nurtured Terrorism in Sri Lanka.

      Your selective memory is consistent with all the Racists.

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