Monday’s announcement that yet another of the country’s nursing leaders was exiting the stage at the end of August was not wholly unexpected.
Things started to look untenable in the long term for Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, a month or two now.
Her public apology in July was brave after members expressed fury about the difference between what they thought they were getting in their pay packet following their long-awaited pay rise and what they actually received.
She spoke out while leaders from most other unions stayed very quiet, or at least certainly didn’t step forward in solidarity, and a few potentially tricky pay-related web pages were removed.
However, at best, the wording of her apology made it look as if she hadn’t got a firm grip on the issue.
“It has come to my attention in the last 24 hours that the deal was not as straightforward as we said and for that I offer you a sincere personal apology,” she stated on 25 July.
But a briefing document that had been sent to RCN reps earlier in July was also being circulated among members and landed in my email inbox.
It showed at least some in the college appeared to know how the delivery of the pay deal would work this year.
“Members were told they would receive a 3% per pay rise in July backdated from April but it subsequently turned out this was not the case”
The main problem was, of course, that all members were told they would receive a 3% per pay rise in July backdated from April but it subsequently turned out this was not the case.
Only half got the rise in July, while the remainder received an average increase of around 1.5% with more to come on their incremental date – which could be as many as 11 months down the line.
This came on the back of general disquiet among some activists about how the deal was originally sold to members by the unions generally, with the basic increase being conflated with increments.
Personally, I liked Janet Davies, having known and worked with her for a number of years. She had been around the college since 2005 and had a good grounding in nursing policy.
I also admired her practical approach and her recognition of the RCN’s challenges as both a union and professional body.
And let’s not forget that she was a vocal driving force behind the RCN’s #scrapthecap campaign that at least helped get the government, NHS Employers and unions around the table to agree a deal.
“I hope the RCN moves quickly to find a replacement of high calibre”
No doubt the timing of her departure is designed to take some of the anger over the way the pay deal was communicated out of September’s extraordinary general meeting.
But I hope the RCN moves quickly to find a replacement of high calibre. In Dame Donna Kinnair, it already has an excellent and highly regarded interim chief executive and general secretary.
There are too many issues on the political agenda that require a commanding voice on behalf of the profession for the RCN to be in flux or potentially rudderless.
To name but a few, we have the ongoing workforce crisis, Brexit, cuts to training budgets, threats to community nursing, a raft of new education standards and new roles such as nursing associates.
The unplanned departure of the RCN leader comes in the same year that we have already seen Jackie Smith leave the Nursing and Midwifery Council and in which Jane Cummings is set to step down as chief nursing office for England.
It is hardly ideal that the profession is losing so many key leaders in such a short space of time – particularly in the present circumstances.
It is vital that these organisations recruit quickly, but also that they recruit well. Nursing cannot afford to be without assertive leadership as it navigates such choppy waters.