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This year's RCN congress to discuss re-joining International Council of Nurses

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A debate will be held at this year’s Royal College of Nursing congress about whether the organisation should re-join a global nursing federation.

The merits of the RCN reclaiming its place in the International Council of Nurses is among the items approved for discussion at the annual meeting of members, which will be held in Liverpool between 19 and 23 May.

The motion was submitted by Jeni Watts on behalf of the Devon branch of the college. Ms Watts is an RCN activist who helps to run the We Are Global Nurses group, which is campaigning for the college to reconnect with the ICN.

The item is listed on the RCN congress agenda under the title “That this meeting of congress debates whether the RCN would be more influential for nursing and health globally if we re-joined the ICN”.

The ICN is a membership federation of more than 130 national nurse associations, representing more than 20 million nurses worldwide.

The decision to leave the ICN was made by RCN members at the union’s congress in 2013 amid concerns about membership fees, the level of which were set at the time based on the number of members each group had.

As the second largest member, the RCN was paying more than half a million pounds annually to be part of the ICN, which is now leading on the Nursing Now campaign in partnership with the World Health Organization to raise the status of nursing around the world. 

In a congress debate, critics had argued that the fee was unsustainable and could be invested into UK nursing instead. Despite contributing 16% of the ICN’s subscription income, the RCN did not receive any special privileges.

However, supporters said membership of the ICN gave UK nurses a vital voice in a global platform.

In a compelling opinion piece in Nursing Times ahead of the final vote, a powerhouse of nurse leaders including recently announced RCN president Anne Marie Rafferty warned that the move could have “devastating political consequences that would be difficult to repair”.

They said withdrawing from the ICN could damage the reputation of the UK and the RCN and result in the college losing its influence in the global arena.

Despite the sharp divide in opinion, the resolution to exit the ICN was carried by 91.7% of the 400 plus RCN members present at the 2013 congress.

Other items up for discussion at this year’s RCN event in Liverpool is whether England should introduce a national nurse uniform to mirror the other three countries in the UK.

Members are also due to vote on a resolution to review whether the joint chief executive and general secretary role at the RCN should be split, with the latter becoming an elected position.

In terms of wider health issues, the congress will hear discussions on the abuse of nitrous oxide, how to further reduce avoidable harm and death from sepsis, and how to improve the ability of nursing staff to recognise loneliness and its effects.

In addition, a vote will take place on whether the RCN council should lobby governments across the UK to decriminalise prostitution.

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