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RCN asked to 'urgently' reassess international ties ahead of 2020

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Fears have been raised that UK nurses will be left out of key global discussions about the profession due to take place next year unless formal links with international colleagues are restored.

They are calling on leaders from the Royal College of Nursing to push forward with discussions about re-joining the International Council of Nurses “as a matter of urgency” ahead of 2020, which has been designated the year of the nurse and the midwife. 

The college voted to leave the ICN, a membership federation of more than 130 national nursing associations worldwide, in 2013 due to concerns about high fees.

At this year’s RCN congress, nurse Jeni Watts, who co-ordinates the We Are Global Nurses campaign group alongside Paul Jebb, a deputy nursing director at an NHS trust, led a debate exploring whether the college would be more influential if it re-joined the ICN.

Strong views on both sides were heard, with some nurses who had initially supported leaving the ICN in 2013 now reconsidering their position. 

In an open letter published today addressed to RCN chief executive Dame Donna Kinnair and president Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, Ms Watts and Mr Jebb said they believed the debate at congress gave the college a “clear mandate” to talk to the ICN about the potential terms of re-joining. 

jeni watts

jeni watts

Source: Jeni Watts

Jeni Watts

“Once this discussion has taken place, we believe the specifics of membership should be published to the wider membership and a vote arranged for the next annual general meeting for members to decide if the RCN should re-join,” they added.

They expressed concern that without these connections in place, the RCN would not have a seat at the table during important international conversations carried out in 2020, which has been designated the year of the nurse and the midwife by the World Health Organisation.

The ICN is set to take a leading role in next year’s celebrations because of its close ties with WHO. The two organisations are working in collaboration to run the high-profile Nursing Now campaign, which is aiming to raise the profile of nurses worldwide.

In the letter, Ms Watts and Mr Jebb said: “As 2020 has been declared year of the nurse and midwife by the WHO, we would respectfully ask that this discussion is undertaken as a matter of urgency.

“This is so UK nurses can be given the opportunity to join with international colleagues in this momentous year to celebrate and influence for nursing and health,” they added. 

Speaking to Nursing Times, Ms Watts it “cannnot go unnoticed” that ICN were key to the decision to make 2020 the year of the nurse and midwife. 

She highlighted how nurses during the congress debate had expressed a desire to gain more information about the ICN and what could be gained by the RCN reconnecting with it. 

“We believe this gives a clear mandate for RCN to talk to ICN to get this evidence and give members an opportunity to make an informed decision on membership,” she said. 

A spokesman for the RCN said the matter would be on the agenda for the July meeting of council.

During the meeting, council members would look at the views expressed by nurses in the debate at congress, the reasons why RCN left ICN in 2013 and what had changed since then, he noted.

paul jebb

paul jebb

Source: Paul Jebb

Paul Jebb

Council would be working with the RCN’s international committee on this issue to decide the next course of action, he added.

He stressed that the item at congress was a “matter for discussion” rather than a “resolution” and therefore was not voted on by members so council had no “mandate” to follow the matter through.

The college was “definitely backing” the WHO’s year of the nurse and midwife in 2020 whether it was in the ICN or not, said the spokesman.

“Just because we are not part of the ICN doesn’t mean international engagement isn’t important to us and we definitely agree that nursing is a global pursuit,” he told Nursing Times.

The RCN would provide a formal response to the letter once it was received, said the college spokesman.

When the RCN was a part of the ICN the way in which membership fees were calculated was based on the number of members an association had.

As the second largest member, the RCN was paying more than £600,000 annually, equating to 16% of the ICN’s subscription income.

Despite the significant contribution the RCN did not receive any special privileges and critics believed this membership model was unfair.

During the debate at this year’s congress, Ms Watts said since 2013 the ICN “has made progress to address its membership model and implemented a programme of organisational improvement”.

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