RCN publishes ‘damning’ interim findings of external review

The NHS pay deal was so complex that members found it difficult to understand. 

Ian Snug
8 September 2018
RCN Sign

The external report identifies several areas in which the union fell short of its members’ expectations.

Following its investigation, Electoral Reform Services has published its interim report which highlights the areas in which the Royal College of Nursing fell short during the NHS pay negotiations. You can read the full report here.


In summary, the external review found that the ‘deal was too complex’ for members to fully understand, the RCN had an ‘inexperienced trade union committee’ who ‘focused on headlines’, an ‘incomplete pay calculator’ and communication had a ‘pro-deal bias’.

The Royal College of Nursing said only last week that it has no intentions of reopening pay negotiations as staff already have ‘best available deal’.

The deal was complex.

The NHS pay deal was so complex that members found it difficult to understand.

The report states; There are inherent complexities in the pay deal that made effective interpretation and communication challenging for all stakeholders.


These inherent complexities exacerbated misunderstandings or confusion about the negotiations and deal, and its relevance to members especially in comparison to their existing pay progression arrangements.”

Trade union committee is ‘inexperienced’.

The Royal College of Nursing’s Trade Union Committee had only recently been formed, following the disbanding of its predecessor the Membership and Representation Committee (MRC). 

The report states; The Trade Union Committee was newly formed and this limited their ability to effectively fully scrutinise and evaluate the complexities of the deal.”

When interviewed by ESR the TUC described ‘nervousness’ around the ‘biggest decision to be made’ and questioned whether the committee as a group had enough time to develop and ‘bed down’, describing the pay deal decision as ‘a baptism of fire’.”


The focus was on headlines.

The Trade Union Committee did not have all the information and based some decisions on incomplete facts.

The report states; “The focus was on the headline figures of the pay deal which led to a lack of clarity and accuracy on how the deal would be implemented and affect the pay packets of individual members in the short term.”

Adding; it appears that clear and accurate information on this point was unavailable during the presentation of the deal, including to the Trade Union Committee on 7th March, and is the likely cause of misunderstanding and confusion”.

ESR noted a the RCN had a “lack of clarity and accuracy on how the pay deal would be implemented” and “apparent misinformation on details that had not yet been confirmed.”

Pay calculators were inaccurate.

The information provided to members via the Pay Calculator, which was promoted by all unions involved in the deal, was inaccurate and incomplete.


The report says; the pay calculator was not able to relay the nuances of the deal (with respect to increment dates in particular), and thus was not able to provide sufficient detail to members on how the deal would be implemented and affect pay packets in the short term.”

Communication had a ‘pro-deal’ bias.

Communication between the RCN and its members had a ‘pro-deal’ bias. It was put to members as the best deal that they were likely to get in the current climate and recommended they vote in favour.

The threats by the RCN that staff would return to a pre-deal arrangement also influenced members decisions.

The report states; Communication of the deal may have impacted on some members’ and internal RCN groups’ ability to assess the deal and thereby make an informed balanced judgement on its merits.”

ERS therefore considers whether internal groups within RCN, as well as the wider membership, were consistently informed about the finer details and impacts of the deal (both in a positive and negative sense), in a way that enabled them to make an informed and balanced judgement about it.”

No communication strategy.

The lack of communications leadership hindered the development of an effective communications strategy which was needed to clearly explain the impacts of the deal to members.

The report states; it is apparent that there was insufficient communications leadership in place to successfully present the details and impacts of the deal to the membership.”

Interviews with key personnel from the Communications Team attests to a lack of clear leadership in the communications area from their superiors.”

The Communications Team indicated that, upon drawing up five key points relating to the pay deal, their recommendations were signed off by the Chief Executive & General Secretary or appropriate members of the Pay Working Group with no corrections. This, in context, suggests a possible lack of scrutiny – from a communications perspective – may have been existent.

Extraordinary General Meeting.

A statement from RCN Council in response to the interim report said: “This initial report goes some way to detailing mistakes that were made earlier this year. We thank the Electoral Reform Services for the way in which it continues to conduct the review and await the second part.

“We urge members to read these early findings before voting in the Extraordinary General Meeting. They show that, in places, the RCN’s understanding and communication of the NHS pay deal in England was not of the standard that members should expect – for that we apologise again today. 

“This report will inform the EGM called for by members and the second document with clear recommendations will come later this autumn.”

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments