My last blog (scroll down) was in the immediate aftermath of the RCN ‘no confidence’ vote. Council had retired to consider its next actions and I reflected on what had led me to agree with the vote. Last week Council announced that they would be standing down (with some caveats), and a new Council would be elected as soon as practically possible. There was a little flurry of media activity and then, in the wider world at least, life continued.
Most of the media I’ve seen has concentrated on the nurses’ pay deal as the reason for the vote of ‘no confidence’ in the leadership of the RCN. Whilst the pay deal was doubtless the trigger for the vote, many people (myself included) came down on the ‘no confidence’ side because of a much broader dissatisfaction with the leadership of nursing’s professional organisation. As candidates begin to put themselves forward for the ‘new’ Council, I’d like them to pay attention to the reasons why I (and others) voted for change. I have summarised those reasons below, and I would like to see Council candidates, whichever ‘constituency’ puts them forward, at least recognise these and commit to addressing them in their election statements. They include:
- a perceived diminishing of the RCN’s function as a professional body e.g. it doesn’t do enough informing/debating the wider issues facing the profession, protecting and championing the role of the Registered Nurse, engaging with the mainstream media on issues other than union representation and terms and conditions
- failure to engage its wider membership – some 400,000 members – illustrated by the very low turnout for elections and other important votes over a long period of time. Less than 4% for the no confidence vote and often less than that for elections to governance groups
- an organisational structure that is modelled on an out-dated trade union model of ‘branches’ and ‘reps’ that many members find off-putting, not reflecting modern multiple channels of engagement and not adequately content-driven
- perceived conflicts of interest, e.g. unable to champion the primacy of the Registered Nurse because it also counts health care assistants/nursing support staff among its members; difficulty in promoting the development of the profession as a whole because it has a major function to protect the interests of individuals – and what may be good for the profession in the long-term may not seem good for individuals in the short-term.
These issues are important to members who see nursing in an increasingly challenging position – inadequate articulation of the unique value of the Registered Nurse, dilution of the workforce, antipathy towards higher education for nurses, an image that is stubbornly resistant to the recognition of the changes and developments in the modern profession, a disaffected workforce creating retention problems for employers and safety issues for patients – and our professional body failing to effectively challenge and articulate these.
A successful ‘no confidence’ vote was an historic moment in the life of the College, and now that the dust has settled a little, meaningful dialogue with members is needed to move forward. The feelings that led to the vote won’t be satisfied by a new Council – elected through the same mechanisms as the old, and subject to the same modus operandi – smiling out of headshots and making aspirational statements. As more and more nurses have graduate education and post-graduate thinking skills, they will not be satisfied with old thinking and old ways. They’ve been taught to challenge, to push beyond the status quo, to learn & act on evidence. They’re used to multi-channel, content-driven communications. They want to pick & choose, not take what they’re given. Traditional thinking, traditional expectations and traditional organisations are not going to cut it for them – inside or outside the profession. They are looking for a ‘voice’, and not finding it where they should.
So, prospective candidates – I’d like to hear some thoughts on how you might tackle the bullet points above. And if it sounds feasible, and creative, and responsive, then maybe, just maybe, someone will be elected on a turnout bigger than 3.47%.