'A politically free NHS makes more sense than gangsta rap'
Many things bemuse me. The popularity of Cheryl Cole is an obvious example. Or gangsta rap – and I know I’m not the target audience but what is that all about?
Oh and people who got overly involved in the royal wedding, camping on the streets for a week, knitting a wicker hat to send to the happy couple, crying with joy or punching a foreigner in celebration of the whole regal shebang. Please understand I am not being anti-royal-wedding-fans here, and if you are a big fan of Snoop Biggy Flim Flam, don’t write in with your aggressive rhyming feeling all “disrespected bro”. I am expressing bemusement not opposition. I just don’t get it.
Indeed there are some social trends that have been around for ages that I have completely failed to get. Soap opera for example. Or kebabs. Or, perhaps less randomly, the industry that is nurse leadership.
A recent letter responding to my column about nursing and the public service cuts asked: “What should our leaders be doing differently to withstand the economic and political onslaught?”. I hope you’ll forgive me if I give the question some attention in the next two or three weeks because it’s a good one from an honourable source.
First things first though, let me say something in defence of people who do not lead but rather just carp on the sidelines criticising the compromises, confusion and misunderstanding that is so often the preserve of some “leaders”. Being a recognised leader is – regardless of whether you like it – an act of compromise. When someone signs up to lead, they sign up to the limits, internal logic and “rules”. Choosing not to compromise and instead being a critical voice – whether you are a nurse, healthcare assistant or anyone else – is an understandable and legitimate choice. No matter where it occurs, it creates a mechanism of random accountability and long may it continue. Because, let’s face it, most of us have seen people who, driven by ambition, self belief and a desire to change things from within, become disarmed, reshaped and ultimately transformed by the compromises they have to make as leaders or managers. Some “leaders” are guided by what or who is above them and, if you are looking upwards when you walk, you don’t notice what or who you are treading on.
Of course that may be avoiding the issue so I offer this. Nursing is bound, to its detriment, by its insistence on deferring to whatever agenda it is presented by government. Nursing does not decide what should be talked about, it joins in with what it is told to discuss; it defers, it lacks confidence, it fits in. Maybe it needs to do something transformational, politically speaking. Instead of responding to the agenda of politicians, economists or unions, it ought to lead on something important, where others would follow. As advocates, guardians and care-givers, we should start with a campaign to make the NHS independent of government, to develop a charter of independence that safeguards patients and services against the ever-changing whims of political parties – a charter that genuinely modernises the health service.
Leadership is about vision; great leadership is about transcending limits. Leading a campaign that frees the NHS from government interference while establishing its rules, responsibilities and future would not only rescue healthcare, it would put nursing at the heart of decision-making and advocacy for a generation.