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Is our society in crisis?

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser

Florence Nightingale often asked, 'Who is in charge here?' Perhaps people in more modern times are likely to ask, 'Who is running this outfit - and who is going to be held accountable when it all goes belly-up?'

It feels as if the nation is in turmoil after the recent riots, with arguments about who is in charge of the police - the police establishment or the home secretary? Does the public really care about such matters of detail? Or are we more interested in the safety of ourselves, family and friends, and our homes and businesses?

Similar sentiments are flourishing within the NHS in England at the moment. Who is currently commissioning health services? Is it the rapidly disappearing primary care trusts or the newly emerging clinical commissioning groups? And is anyone really bothered?

Leadership, leadership, leadership … many parts of the public and private sectors, as well as government, are in desperate need of honest, courageous and ethical leadership. Most people appreciate being led by the few exceptional human beings who put their organisation before themselves and take the wellbeing of staff very seriously. It is important for the workers to believe in what they are doing during working hours and to have confidence in the ability, commitment and integrity of the people in charge.

I would be interested to know how much confidence Nursing in Practice readers have in their current bosses, whether they happen to be the senior general practice partner, chief executive, university chancellor or any other grand title. In the midst of a blooming economy, relatively tranquil times and orderly civic behaviour, bold and talented leadership is not as essential as when savage financial cuts are demanded, and the streets are groaning with hostility and the voices of disenfranchised young hooligans.

Before I am accused of being judgmental and unsympathetic to the plight of unemployed and under-educated young folk, it is in everyone's interest for us to take the necessary action to prevent the causes of hooligan behaviour in the first place, rather then assume that all looters must be severely punished to learn the errors of their ways. We must look beneath the surface and ask a number of challenging questions.
1. Why is that most A&E departments resemble war zones on a Saturday evening, simply as a result of vast quantities of alcohol being consumed?
2. What makes young people feel so unhappy about the community in which they live that whole-scale destruction of shops and homes is seen to be amusement and fun?
3. What action is needed to help young people feel part of their community, rather then being totally excluded with little sense of 'belonging'?
4. How can the nation confront the 'gang land' climate in which knives and drugs are believed to be symbols of status, not meaningless violence and degradation?
5. And what do nurses have in common with this sorry tale?

Nurses work in numerous settings - hospital, prison and all parts of the community - and see the horrible impact on individuals when communities are disconnected and where disastrous lifestyles flourish. The mantra 'never waste a crisis' and the summer of 2011 will, without doubt, be remembered by us all. Maybe, just maybe, we will learn from distressing events, galvanise our collective energy and start to consider the really important things in life.

Our children and young people are our future, and will bring benefits to us all if the nation has the political will and wisdom to nurture them into wanting to live well - rather than assuming that the impoverished 'under class' is an inevitable part of our society.