At the Royal College of Nursing Congress all eyes are on the throngs of nurses debating the issues of the profession.
Here’s the usual script for the year’s biggest week in nursing. As congress opens the RCN issues a few press releases about the difficulties facing the profession and calling for government to pledge to change; a minister (or if we’re lucky a health secretary or even prime minister) arrives at congress to be tackled over these vital issues by delegates using the medium of occasional booing but always assertive interrogation. Cue lots of media coverage and an opportunity for the RCN to get its voice heard about what nursing really needs to provide safe care. The RCN usually does a better job of raising the profile of nursing at its annual congress than many other professions manage at their yearly events.
This year the formula has changed. Because in 2013, for the first time since 2007, there is no ministerial address.
Apparently, they didn’t ask to come, and the RCN didn’t invite them. The college is choosing instead to focus on its own agenda.
Shouldn’t the Royal College of Nursing be publicly trying to tackle the health secretary’s belief that nurse education is at fault?
To some extent, I can understand that. This has been a difficult time for nursing - first came the publication of the Francis report in February, forcing the profession to face up to the horrors of Mid Staffs. This was followed six weeks later by the government’s initial response, which - in contradiction with Robert Francis QC - implicitly laid the responsibility for the care failings at nursing’s door.
So the profession has to lick its wounds and consider its response. But nursing has just been cornered - and told its selection and training is flawed. Surely this is a time to come out fighting?
Shouldn’t the RCN be publicly trying to tackle the health secretary’s belief that nurse education is at fault? Isn’t it the perfect time to challenge him about the government response to Francis - and the glaring omissions - before its full response later this year?
I hope I’m wrong and the media coverage the RCN will undoubtedly get will ensure government receives a strong message from nurses. And I understand the rationale that most of the debate should centre on what nurses - and their patients - want, and that the stage should not be handed over to political spin. But here was an excellent chance to engage government in a public dialogue.
The RCN is influencing government behind closed doors, but the opportunities to do it publicly are few and far between, and this one feels like it has been squandered.
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Jenni Middleton, editor
email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed