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RCN leaders must trust their members to decide the future


The path leading to the Royal College of Nursing’s extraordinary general meeting is turning out to have more twists and turns than I, and probably others, had originally foreseen.

Tensions and emotions were always going to be running high ahead of the meeting, due to be held on Friday 28 September at 11am in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

After all, pay will almost certainly be at, or very near, the top of the list of topics that people get most excited about.

Likewise, any suggestion that people have been misled or that shady briefings are going on behind closed doors will inevitably get blood pressures rising.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, at the latest development in the run-up to the EGM on how the RCN handled the pay deal, especially given the circumstances that got it into this pickle in the first place.

“The revealing of the existence of this email sparked a storm of condemnation on Twitter”

I was told that an email had been sent by the RCN’s council to some members in Scotland, encouraging them to vote against a motion of no confidence in it.

A similar plea had previously been made by the council in an official document released ahead of the meeting. But it was balanced by also including a statement on behalf of members who had petitioned for the EGM.

This latest email seems different: not only does it feature solely the views of the council, but it also attacks the activists who had initially petitioned for the motion of no confidence.

It describes them as a “small group of members putting at risk what has always been a proudly non party-political organisation”.

As many social media savvy readers will already know, the revealing of the existence of this email sparked a storm of condemnation on Twitter on Wednesday and Thursday.

Now, I am an external observer and realise the need to tread carefully, having had both sides tell me off at various points – a sure sign that we are impartial, I hope.

Also, the RCN’s work is, after all, its own business as a membership organisation, as opposed to the work of a national agency, government body or regulator open to public scrutiny.

However, as I said in a recent article after the resignation of Janet Davies, the college needs strong leadership and nursing needs a strong RCN, regardless of political or union allegiances.

I thought the college had been playing a sensible hand so far while navigating through what are obviously difficult times.

“Surely members can be trusted to make up their own minds about the official information supplied”

It had agreed to the EGM, commissioned at external report and swiftly carried out a leadership change, and been transparent and proactive in keeping people informed about all this.

But – there is always a but – I question the wisdom of treating the EGM vote as a normal election with the usual campaigning, let alone emails of the type described above.

By engaging in such campaigning, RCN leaders risk opening themselves up to further criticism over their communications with members, in the same way as they did over the pay deal itself.

The college and its council also risk upsetting members even further and – as social media reaction suggests – potentially prompting them to actually vote in the other direction to the one they want.

Surely members can be trusted to make up their own minds about the official information supplied, and I expect there will be plenty of opportunity to debate the issues at the EGM itself.

I hope for all involved that, after this week, the road to the EGM will be straight and true. More kinks could lead to an almighty crash for the college.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Steve a very measured piece especially as you are linked to the college.
    I have been a member and an activist for many years with the RCN, national steward and council member but the college has lost its way and the pay was the last straw for our members. Communication has always been a problem with the college but this time the line in the sand has been well and truly crossed.
    A number of activists have tried for years to sort out the communications but shall we say the tail has been wagging the dog, Now is time for change

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    They must stand down. They have been disappointing the members. Enough is enough! We need leaders with guts, not complacent 'apolitical' losers. They blame the activists for their own failure. They do not deserve to be our leaders. They are a shame!

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