The council of the Royal College of Nursing has been forced to collectively stand down after losing a historic vote of no confidence.
A significant 78% of RCN members who took part in the ballot voted in favour of the no confidence motion. The results were revealed at an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held in Birmingham today.
“This vote is clear and the council and management of the RCN have received the message”
The EGM was called following a petition by more than 1,000 RCN members to discuss the college’s communications and processes surrounding the pay deal, which the majority voted to accept earlier this year.
As previously reported, angry members felt “misled” after many received much less in their pay packets than they were expecting.
In total, 11,156 people voted in favour of the resolution, which stated: “We have no confidence in the current leadership of the RCN, and call on council to stand down.”
A further 3,124 people voted against the motion, and 1,112 abstained. Just 3% of the RCN membership voted, either by proxy or in person at the EGM.
Commenting on the result, outgoing chair of council Maria Trewern said: “Today’s honest and open debate in Birmingham has cleared the air and the college will emerge stronger as a result.
“This vote is clear and the council and management of the RCN have received the message,” she said.
She added: “Council has already driven change within the organisation in recent weeks – to listen more closely to members and involve them thoroughly – and this will continue.”
Ms Trewern said the council would now enter a period of transition and would convene next week to plan its next steps.
The row stems from the RCN’s handling of the 2018 NHS pay deal in England.
As previously reported, members accused the college leaders of misleading them over the offer after many received much less in their July pay packets than they were expecting.
The controversary led to the resignation of the RCN’s former chief executive, Janet Davies, in August.
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Nursing Times also learnt today that RCN’s director of member relations, Chris Cox, has stood down over the dispute.
An independent review commissioned by the RCN into its processes and communications around the pay deal found leaders did not fully understand the deal and therefore issued incorrect information to members.
Elaine Maxwell, who has been a member of the RCN for more than 40 years, attended the EGM.
She signed the petition due to concerns over the RCN’s governance arrangements rather than the pay deal.
“I think what shocked us was that the online voting had been so massively in favour of the motion”
Earlier this month, Dr Maxwell criticised the language used to describe the petitioners in a letter penned by the RCN council and sent to some members in Scotland, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
The letter said: “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.”
Dr Maxwell told Nursing Times she was “utterly shocked” to hear RCN chief executive Donna Kinnair allegedly admit during the EGM that she had supported the letter because she had evidence to believe some of the petitioners were acting on political motivations.
Dame Kinnair allegedly did not heed to pressure from members to disclose how she found out the political allegiances of the campaigners given the introduction of stricter privacy law, Dr Maxwell said.
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Dr Maxwell added the council appeared to have no contingency plans for a no-confidence vote when questioned by members.
Only around 110 members attended the EGM, said Dr Maxwell. She added: “I think we knew the motion had been carried in the room, that was clear from 11.20am.
“But I think what shocked us was that the online voting had been so massively in favour of the motion and I don’t think anyone expected that, which I think shows it’s not just activists who are saying this has been poor,” she said.
Dr Maxwell said recasting the council alone was not enough and called deeper cultural changes at the RCN to address issues raised in the wake of the NHS pay deal campaign.
“We must do better, we must rebuild trust, confidence and must engage membership”
She added: “They have poor governance, poor engagement and they have not got an organisation that most nurses want to get involved in. I want to see more than just different people around the table.”
Tom Bolger, a former deputy general secretary at the RCN, told Nursing Times the council must respect the vote.
He added: I was surprised by the size of the majority. It is sad but it is very clear they must go.
”However, they gave the impression that council still won’t walk. We’ll see about that.
”They also have no contingency plan for this outcome – that itself illustrates how poor they are in delivering their governance responsibilities.”
Nurses turned to Twitter to express disappointment over the low voting turn out.
Student nurse Craig Davidson wrote: “Regardless of whether or not you agree with the #RCNEGM result, what is most disappointing is the 3.74% voting turnout in what was quite possibly one of the most monumental votes in @thercn history.
“We must do better, we must rebuild trust, confidence and must engage membership,” he added.
“I don’t feel this is celebratory moment less than 4% of membership voted”
RCN steward Jane Richards added: “I don’t feel this is celebratory moment less than 4% of membership voted, still feel the focus should have been learn and move forward not punish.”
Registered nurse Tony Kemp called for the trade union and professional body aspects of the RCN to be split.
He wrote: “Sad day but entirely predictable given the behaviours, attitudes and general demeanour towards the issues raised. The overall percentage of [members] voting regrettably says a lot regarding the wider engagement of the RCN as a TU and as a professional body, needs splitting.”
Learning disabilities nurse and RCN steward Phil Noyes said he was hoping for “positive progress” going forward, adding: “The result is unambiguous – the road forward for @theRCN unclear but I hope the energy put in can persist and produce the member led union we all want.”
The no confidence motion was presented by prominent campaigner Danielle Tiplady.
In her speech, Ms Tiplday branded the RCN’s handling of the pay deal a “disaster”.
”We have been let down at a time when we are in utter crisis, with 42,000 nursing vacancies, nurses going to foodbanks, using payday loans, they accepted this deal on good faith and now that faith has gone,” she added.
“This is not leadership, we have been failed.”
Results of the vote on the motion of no confidence
For the motion: 11,156 (78.1%)
Against: 3,124 (21.9%)