Dame Donna Kinnair steps down as RCN chief following ‘a period of ill health’

Originally joining the RCN team in 2015, Dame Donna took up her leadership position two years ago.  

James McKay
1 July 2021
Dame Donna Kinair

She originally joined the RCN team in 2015 and took up her leadership position two years ago.

Dame Donna Kinnair will not be returning to her role as General Secretary and Chief Executive of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), it has been announced.


Following “a period of ill health”, Dame Donna Kinnair has announced that she has taken the decision to step down from her position as General Secretary and Chief Executive of the nursing union.

Dame Donna has been on extended sick leave following a cycling incident earlier this year. 


Originally joining the RCN team in 2015, Dame Donna took up her leadership position two years ago.

Dame Donna’s history in the profession saw her dedicate her career to child protection, providing leadership in major hospital trusts in London, teaching, and advising on legal and governmental committees before moving toward fighting for fair pay and safe staffing for nurses.


Notably, she was one of four expert advisers in the 2001 Laming inquiry into the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbié.

Announcing the news, Dame Donna said: “I have been honoured to represent my profession in this role, particularly throughout the challenges of the pandemic and to have had an opportunity to work alongside ICU colleagues at the Nightingale Hospital London.

“I wish my colleagues and our membership all the best for the future and look forward to taking on some new challenges after my recovery.”

Carol Popplestone, Vice-Chair of the Royal College of Nursing Council said: “We thank Dame Donna for all her service to the College as General Secretary and Chief Executive and wish her well.”


Acting General Secretary.

Dame Donna’s resignation will be effective immediately and an announcement regarding the next steps for recruitment into the role will follow.

Pat Cullen will continue in the role of Acting General Secretary and Chief Executive. 

Ms Cullen has worked at the RCN since 2016 and was in post as Director of RCN Northern Ireland since May 2019, where she led RCN members on the College’s first general strike.

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