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What happens at RCN Congress?

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Consultant nurse specialist, Patricia McDermott, experienced her first RCN Congress this year. She reveals her personal highlights and explains why congress is such as important part of the nursing calendar.

I have been a member of the RCN for 25 years and am ashamed to say this year was the first time I attended congress.

The five days I spent in Glasgow with over 4000 delegates attending the centenary year of congress were inspirational, emotional and a mind-blowing experience.

The opening of congress was spectacular with a distinctly Scottish flavour. We were entertained by the NHS Forth Valley choir and Lord Provost. We shared in honouring our colleagues who won RCN and RCN foundation awards.

Day two was a buzz with excitement and passion. Old friends were reunited and new friendships established in between a full day of debates and discussions on illegal drugs, agency nursing and the EU and nursing.

Resolutions were passed on student bursaries, domestic abuse, child mental health and CPR lessons for children. The keynote speaker, Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, highlighted the issues currently confronting the profession, including inadequate numbers of nurses, the cost of agency staff and cuts to public health funding to treat long-term conditions.

In each case, problems were being caused by cash and staffing being reduced. Janet commented: “You couldn’t make it up”

Day three was full-on again with discussions and the passing and rejecting of resolutions.

A warm welcome was given to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon; a packed audience listened to her pledging that safe nursing staffing levels will become enshrined in Scottish law. A standing ovation was given when she pledged to retain free tuition and bursaries for nursing and midwifery students in Scotland. She described Westminster government’s proposals to cut bursaries “shamefully short-sightedness” and wrong-headed”.

Come on England - follow suit!

Day four was marked by an inspirational and thought provoking keynote speech by the former President of the American Nurses Association (ANA), Rebecca Patton. She spoke about the role the ANA played in achieving the historic Affordable Care Act which came into force in 2010 and is the biggest overhaul of US healthcare since Medicare was introduced in 1965. She implored us to “stay committed to an agenda,” stating ”The long view pays off”. Her parting three pieces of advice were:

  1. If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it
  2. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no
  3. If you do not step forward, you’ll always be in the same place

Another three resolutions were passed. Then, following an impressive debate, congress voted unanimously for the RCN council to campaign for a strong, permanent expert nursing voice at the heart of the department.

The afternoon was the AGM which turned out to be very interesting, it was inspiring to listen to how congress has worked throughout the year for its members.

Day five saw an emergency resolution, called by the RCN South Yorkshire Branch: ”In light of the statement made by Professor Patton this meeting of congress asks council to consider the way the RCN engages in political decision making that impacts on nursing and health and wellbeing of the UK”. There was an overwhelming vote in favour of this resolution.

Tommy Whitelaw gave a very emotional personal experience of caring for his Mum “Joan” with dementia and his struggle to get the care, kindness and dignity she deserved. It touched everyone in the room. His message to the audience and every healthcare professional: “You can make a difference”

Running alongside congress was the exhibition, hosting everything from good health, job opportunities and education for nurses. The breaks were peppered with fringe events hosted by the RCN forums covering topical issues and challenges.

Sadly, congress is now over for another year. So what will I personally and professionally take away from congress? It has made me a stronger more passionate nurse, I have made long lasting friendships and great professional contacts to share good practice, but ultimately congress has demonstrated to me that when we all come together as a professional organisation we can make changes for our patients/clients/service users and ultimately for the nursing profession.

This will definitely not be my last congress.

Patricia McDermott is a consultant nurse specialist - urology





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