Nurses voted in favour of the NHS pay deal after being given “inaccurate” information by the Royal College of Nursing, which was under pressure by the government to “sell” the offer to its members, according to early findings of an independent review.
The reviewers highlighted a raft of issues contributing to the mistakes made, including a lack of understanding and poor communications about the deal, plus pressure from the government side.
As previously reported, the RCN commissioned the Electoral Reform Service (ERS) to investigate the way it handled and communicated the 2018 pay deal in England, after members claimed they were “misled” about what they would receive.
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An interim report has now been released by the RCN ahead of an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) about the issue later this month. The controversy has already seen Janet Davies resign from her role of RCN chief executive and general secretary.
The early findings from the ERS investigation, published late on Friday, support the view that college members were wrongly told by the RCN that all staff would receive a 3% uplift in their July pay packets.
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It concluded that several key members of the RCN leadership believed that this would be the case, even though details on the issue were not confirmed by NHS Employers until the second week of July.
A key part of the RCN’s communication strategy was to refer members to “pay calculators” with which they could work out how the deal would impact them, noted the ERS.
However, the review found that these did not provide sufficient detail and in fact “exacerbated the misunderstanding and confusion”.
“Inaccurate information was presented to members on occasions during the communication campaign”
ERS interim report
Meanwhile, the college’s lead negotiator told ERS during an interview that they were warned by the government that “unless the RCN recommended the deal to members it would be off the table”.
The report said: “During interviews with participants, ERS found that the communication of the deal to members was often described as a ‘sell’.
“That is to say, it was put to members as the best deal that they were likely to get in the current climate and recommended they vote in favour,” it said.
The ERS is now carrying out further investigation to see if members were able to make a balanced judgement on the merits of the deal based on the information they were given.
This will include reviewing the communications of the GMB union, which was the only one of the unions involved in the negotiations to advise its members to reject the deal.
One of the key findings of the interim ERS report was that there was “insufficient communications leadership” in place during the pay campaign to successfully present the deal to RCN members.
It stated: “The addition to the executive team of an expert in communications strategy could have played a crucial role in shaping the overall message, and either minimising the effects of the eventual issue or preventing its occurrence.”
The review also noted that the RCN’s trade union committee had only recently formed when talks were being held, which “limited their ability to effectively fully scrutinise and evaluate the complexities of the deal”.
The ERS also acknowledged that the “inherent complexities” of the pay deal made its effective interpretation and communication “challenging”.
The interim report concluded: “Evidence shows that inaccurate information was presented to members on occasions during the communication campaign, both in printed literature, online information and through responses provided directly to members.”
“This initial report goes some way to detailing mistakes that were made earlier this year”
In a statement responding to the report, the RCN council said: “This initial report goes some way to detailing mistakes that were made earlier this year.
“We thank the ERS for the way in which it continues to conduct the review and await the second part,” it said. “We urge members to read these early findings before voting in the EGM.
It said: “They show that, in places, the RCN’s understanding and communication of the NHS pay deal in England was not of the standard that members should expect – for that we apologise again today.
“This report will inform the EGM called for by members and the second document with clear recommendations will come later this autumn,” the council added.
The EGM, where delegates will vote on a motion of no confidence in the leadership of the RCN and for the council to stand down, was sparked by a petition signed by more than 1,000 members.
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A final report will be completed by the ERS later this autumn, said the college.
The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment by Nursing Times.