Royal College of Nursing leaders, who are already facing a no confidence motion later this month, were today met with fresh fury from members who said they were trying to “manipulate” the impending vote.
Anger erupted after a letter penned by the RCN council and sent to some members in Scotland was criticised by campaigners who are bidding to have the current board removed amid a row over the NHS pay deal.
“It’s not appropriate to call members who are criticising you a small faction who are trying to destroy the college”
The no confidence vote will be held during an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) on 28 September, following a petition signed by more than 1,000 members. As previously reported, the petitioners believe they were “misled” by the college over the 2018 pay deal.
The controversy led to Janet Davies standing down as RCN general secretary and chief executive at the end of last month. But further fuel has today been added to the fire when the email came to light.
- Anger as July nurse pay packets fail to deliver expected wage increase
- Janet Davies to step down from RCN in wake of pay anger
The letter, seen by Nursing Times, firstly outlines the “proper” steps the RCN council had taken to investigate and rectify the pay deal crisis, including issuing an apology, commissioning an independent review and by Ms Davies agreeing to leave her post.
“The debate about the direction of the college needs to be full and frank, and nobody should fear that”
But it goes on to say: “Some divisions within the membership want to effect more radical change without this measured process. And have petitioned a vote of no confidence in the current council.
“This is a potentially dangerous time for the college with this small group of members putting at risk what has always been a proudly non party-political organisation, acting on behalf of, and representing members whatever their opinions or background,” it says.
It adds: “If the council does not deliver the required change that it has signalled, they can and will be replaced by council members who can deliver that change at the regular leadership elections that exist for this very purpose.
“I am asking that you come out in support of the RCN’s leadership, which in my view has taken all the correct actions,” it says.
However, the letter was criticised by Dr Elaine Maxwell, who has been a member of the RCN for 40 years, and signed the no confidence petition.
Speaking to Nursing Times, Dr Maxwell said she had never been an active member of the RCN but signed the petition because she no longer had faith in its governance arrangements and believed power had been “reduced into a small and smaller group of people”.
After seeing the letter written by the council, Dr Maxwell said it had “justified” the no confidence in the leadership.
She accused the council of running a “non-transparent campaign of support” ahead of the vote.
Dr Maxwell said: “When I saw the email that really shocked me, because it’s suggesting the people who signed the petition are some sort of militant group trying to destabilise the RCN and that’s not the case.”
She added: “It’s not appropriate to call members in a membership organisation who are criticising you a small faction who are trying to destroy the college – it’s totally unacceptable.”
Dr Maxwell said the letter had reinforced concerns sparked when RCN chief negotiator Josie Irwin wrote in an article that members were “delusional” if they thought they could get a better pay deal than the one on offer.
- RCN to hold extraordinary general meeting on pay deal in September
- RCN council to fight against overthrow bid in pay deal row
Despite four decades of membership, Dr Maxwell threatened to quit the union if the motion of no confidence was defeated at the EGM and no positive changes were made.
Student nurse Grant Byrne also expressed concerns over the letter. He said: “Any attempt by the leadership of the RCN to manipulate the EGM vote must be fought.
“[The] irony of this being that a big factor in the EGM was the leadership telling people how to vote the last time,” he said. “[It] highlights why fresh leadership is needed – lessons clearly haven’t been learned.”
In a statement, RCN chair of council Maria Trewern said: “The debate about the direction of the college needs to be full and frank, and nobody should fear that.
“Council members are elected by the members in their constituencies to represent them, and it is absolutely right that they should hear from us regarding what we firmly believe to be in their best interests,” she said.
“We will be putting our case forward over the next two weeks and showing the clear and decisive action the college has taken and is taking,” she added.
In addition to the EGM, the college has also commissioned an independent review of its communications and processes surrounding the deal.
Early findings from the inquiry, published on Friday, confirmed the RCN had made mistakes during the pay campaign and had given members inaccurate information about what they would receive.