The Royal College of Nursing Congress has almost unanimously rejected calls for the organisation to split into two in a direct rebuttal to criticisms from the health secretary that there is a conflict of interest in the current set up.
The row between the RCN and health secretary Jeremy Hunt began this morning when general secretary and chief executive Peter Carter launched a scathing attack on the government’s plans to require trainee nurses to complete a year working as a healthcare assistant before starting their full training.
Mr Carter claimed the policy had been formed “on the back of a napkin” in response to the Francis report into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust and had “more holes than a Swiss cheese”.
Asked about the criticisms in an interview with Sky News at lunchtime, Mr Hunt said the RCN had its own “very serious questions” to answer in relation to its involvement with Mid Staffs.
Mr Hunt added: “Let me say this, I think the Royal College of Nursing have got to be very, very careful. They missed what happened at Mid Staffs. The Francis report levelled some very serious criticisms about it. It said that they basically allowed their trade union responsibilities to trump their responsibilities as a royal college to raise professional standards and that they have a conflict of interest.”
Robert Francis QC recommended the RCN give consideration to splitting its functions into a professional body and a trade union
In response to Mr Hunt’s comments the RCN council tabled an emergency resolution this afternoon. In total 99.34% of the 455 voting members present at the session agreed that the RCN was “more effective because of its dual role as a Royal College and a trade union”.
Council chair Kathleen McCourt told congress the RCN’s professional work enhanced the trade union work and “vice versa”. She gave the example of staffing levels as an area which is informed by both members on the front line and professional practice.
East Midlands council member David Harding-Price said: “Our strength is being able to address both the professional side and the trade union side… The doctors are split [into trade union and professional colleges] and Mid Staffs still happened; Unison and other unions don’t have a professional arm and Mid Staffs still happened.”