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Today the Royal College of Nursing held an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM).  You can read about it here and you can also read both sides of the argument from a link on the same page.  A recording of the debate will be available shortly on the RCN website.  I couldn’t go to the EGM but I did watch it streamed live.  I’ve also been openly supportive of the resolution that was proposed:

“We have no confidence in the current leadership of the Royal College of Nursing and call on Council to stand down”.

Briefly, the resolution was sparked by the feelings of disappointment and anger when the pay deal that the RCN negotiated for its members wasn’t quite what they had been led to believe. The furore resulted in the Chief Executive/General Secretary standing down from her post and the College instigating an independent review of what had happened to cause such a breakdown in communication and understanding.  You can read that review here too.  Some people thought this should be enough.  Some didn’t and felt that accountability for whatever happened was likely to be more widespread than one individual.  Hence the resolution.

Today the vote on the resolution was held and the results were:

For the resolution: 11,156

Against the resolution: 3,124

So the resolution was carried and the Council should stand down.

I voted in agreement with the resolution.  I’ve been open about my views on the subject on social media.  I’ve also been open about my broader concerns about the College.  For example, it’s my view that the College does less than it could do to develop and support the profession as an entity.  It is a Trade Union and much of what we hear from it is related to that part of the College’s business – representation, terms and conditions, supporting individuals.  The structure of the College follows a Trade Union model.  The language of reps, and branches, and elections and votes turns me off.  I think it turns a lot of people off – see below for what I think is some evidence of that.

The communication to members is through these structures and from what I hear from friends and colleagues, rarely gets beyond those who attend branch meetings, or who are involved ‘reps’ or union activists.  In today’s nursing world sophisticated communication strategies that use multiple channels are needed.  Keeping the noticeboard up to date is really not going to cut it.  And communications should be easily two-way.  I don’t see that.  Finding agendas and minutes is a struggle.  In fact, to date I haven’t found any minutes, just meeting ‘reports’ – sanitized and reduced notes without even the members present being recorded.  I shouldn’t have to search to find information that I have a right to see.  It’s not transparent.  These are symptoms of a management that want to keep knowledge as power.  Or that’s what it says to me.  Others may find it perfectly acceptable.

But back to the vote.  The RCN has more than 400,000 members.  That’s a lot of people.  Do you know how many members voted in this really important vote on the very essence of the RCN’s practices?  Less than 4%.  In fact 3.74%.  This isn’t unusual in RCN elections. In the recent elections for the Professional Nursing Committee – the Committee that is supposed to reassure members that the College is more than a Trade Union – the committee members were elected on about the same turnout, or less in some cases.   It also appeared that getting the right strategic skills and experiences brought to that Committee at a crucial point for the College were secondary to following a Trade Union election model; and that employment, age, and geographical location were more important.  It was disappointing.  And it said to me, that nothing was changing here.  New committee, old thinking.  Less than 4% turnout for important elections and votes.  An organisation that can’t engage, or even interest, more than 4% of its membership in these fundamental activities is an organisation that is failing its members.   What I heard from the EGM today was the RCN promising to reach out to its members.  All well and good, but first, it needs to take a long, hard look into itself.

I’ve been a full member of the RCN for 42 years.  45 years if you count my student days and  I want this organisation to work for me and for others like me.  These days, I work for myself.  It’s very liberating.  But I still want to belong to a professional body that champions my profession.  That gets itself into the mainstream media.  That is a ‘voice’.  For example, I expected at least a blog from the RCN on the implications for the profession and it’s value to national policy-making when the CNO stepped down into a part Regional Nurse role.  I would have liked to see an exploration from the RCN on the background to the CEO of the NMC standing down and a broader discussion on the regulator and how it protects the public and also protects the profession from itself.  I expected outrage that Trainee Nursing Associates won’t need to be supernumerary when they are supposedly learning in practice.  But the issue that exercises me more than any other – is the absence of a strong, authoritative RCN voice drawing attention to the dangers of diluting the workforce.  The danger of undermining the contribution to patient safety of the Registered Nurse.  Why aren’t they quoting chapter and verse of the research on RNs and safety/mortality/recovery, and getting that talked about outside of the profession?  I don’t understand how the College can stand square behind the primacy of the Registered Nurse when it also has an obligation to promote the roles of members who are not Registered Nurses.  I think that’s a serious conflict of interest.  And these things are why I got involved in this vote.  I thought – hoped – it was a catalyst for a whole range of dissatisfactions to be raised; and some of them were raised at the EGM.  And I’m raising them again here – for what it’s worth.

No CNO, no CEO of the NMC, no CEO of the RCN, and RCN Council vilified by (some of) its ordinary members.  Some would say this means that at a really troubling time for the profession – dilution of the workforce, failure to regulate advanced practice, substitution of RNs, antipathy towards higher education for nurses – there is no visible leadership.  I disagree – because for quite a while now I haven’t looked to these roles for leadership.  They are too embedded in Govt, employers and established systems to ever take an independent stand, to speak against the status quo, to be awkward.  I look for other voices, other influencers, other opinion leaders, independent thinkers, independent minds.  A professional body, more than anything needs independence.  Independence from Govt, from party politics, from employers, from factions.

But on the other hand, I really want a renewed RCN to be a voice and to show leadership for the profession as an entity, not just seeming to represent a group of workers with employers, or fighting the government, no matter what political shade it is.   My vision for that renewal is entirely predictable, I want the trade union activity and professional activity to be separate – completely separate.  So that the professional body can champion the profession, without fear or favour.  Because sometimes, what might be in the best interests of the profession in the long-term, may not be in the best interests of individual professionals in the short-term (another significant conflict of interest in my eyes).

So, stream of consciousness over.  As usual, this is meant to encourage you to think a bit harder about this, a bit further than the vote of no confidence, and the pay deal.  I’m not asking you to agree with me, and I’m not saying I’m right or that my take is the only one.  I’m just putting my worries out there.  Catharsis.  And, I hope, stimulation.

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