The Royal College of Nursing has moved a significant step towards leaving the International Council of Nurses, after a membership vote at congress yesterday evening.
College members voted in favour of a resolution authorizing the RCN council to decide to withdraw from the ICN following an extraordinary general meeting lasting an hour and a half.
The debate saw long queues of speakers wait to air their – often passionate – views on whether to stay in the international organisation or permit the RCN council to leave it.
Despite many ICN supporters speaking out against the resolution, it was carried by a large majority, 91.7%, of the 400 plus RCN members present in the main hall at the college’s annual congress in Liverpool – with just 8.3% voting against.
The RCN council called the EGM after seeing “little progress” in nearly six years of discussions with the ICN over the membership fees it pays to the international body, which has 130 member organisations.
The current round of discussions between the two organisations is set to end in May, but the RCN’s membership has already been suspended by the ICN over its refusal to pay its subscription this year.
The level of ICN fees are based on the size of the membership of the member organisation. As the second largest member after the Japanese Nursing Association, the RCN’s fees contribute 16% of the ICN’s subscription income and in 2012 cost the college around £600,000 – up from £390,000 in 2007.
The RCN council said it believed the level of fee was “unsustainable” – even after securing a possible reduction to £520,000 for this year.
Speaking in favour of the resolution, RCN council chair Kath McCourt said she had “serious concerns” about what the ICN was achieving for college members. “Quite simply we do not think we are receiving value for money,” she said.
She promised members that if the RCN did leave the ICN, its international work would “not cease” and it would continue to “fly the flag for nursing in the four corners of the globe”.
Professor McCourt noted other international organisations that it also worked with, including the European Federation of Nurses Associations and the Commonwealth Nurses Federation.
RCN chief executive and general secretary highlighted that, despite its high fee contribution to the ICN, the college received no special voting rights.
He said: “After years of negotiations, RCN council has concluded ICN membership doesn’t provide value for money.”
He added: “Today is not about the RCN turning its back on international work.”
But a number of members – including several college grandees – urged the college not to leave the ICN.
Former RCN president Maura Buchanan acknowledged that the ICN needed reform but said it would be “tragic if we withdrew” from it.
Linda Bailey, from the RCN’s public health forum, said: “I believe in the fellowship of nursing. We should stay in.
“If you want to change things, you’ve got to change them from within,” she added.
Former RCN council member Dave Dawes also called on the college to vote against leaving in order to “support nurses a lot less privileged than you are”.
However, many members also spoke in support of the resolution.
Lothian branch member Lisa Faulkner said she had “not heard a convincing argument” for staying in the ICN, and the membership fee could be “invested in UK nursing”.
Saffron Brown, a former student member of council, added that the RCN should not remain in the ICN on grounds of “sentimentality”.
Several members also criticized the college for way it had presented the EGM.