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Opinion

Support for a ‘vote of no confidence’ in the RCN is not just about the NHS pay deal

We need an RCN that will stand up for health care workers, nurses and nursing.

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On Friday the 28th September 2018 I, like many other members of the Royal College of Nursing will be attending the RCN EGM in Birmingham and supporting a motion of no-confidence in the leadership. Specifically, I will join many other voices from across the UK calling for the elected members of Council to stand down and for fresh elections to be called.

My support for a no-confidence vote in Council is not just about the English pay deal, a fiasco that has had a disastrous effect on many members pay packet. No, the whole pay debacle is for me symptomatic of something that has gone very wrong in the RCN. Make no mistake had Council not just accepted the presentation on pay that they were given, had Council questioned the information which they were being fed by staff, had Council actually listened to members concerns and not allowed them to be attacked as ‘deluded’ and ‘anti-women’,  we would not be in the position we are in now.

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For far too long the relationship between Council and the RCN staff has not been one of leadership and direction on behalf of the membership but one of deference and lack of candour.  Who is driving policy and change at the RCN? Who do Council listen too? I firmly believe that the answer to these two questions is not the membership. We need a root and branch change in our elected representatives. There are Board, Forum and Committee elections later in the year, members need to ensure that those who stand, and those that are elected, are people that will listen to the voice of the membership and take what they have heard to their various Committees and act on them.

The starting point for this change though is Council. They have failed to show the leadership that is required for the RCN to be a truly membership-led organization. Can we afford to lose all of the experience of the current members? Of course, we can half of Council finish at the end of next year anyway. We have a membership of around 450,000 and I have total confidence that within that number there are enough experienced members and enough driven members to ensure that a new Council can be a different body.

As members, we deserve a Council that reflects the aspirations of it members. A Council that listens and learns when there is dissent from the membership. We need a Council that will provide leadership in challenging the prevailing culture in the RCN. We need an end to the culture of doing the Governments work for them; too often the organization seems to cow tail to the Government.

We need an RCN that will stand up for health care workers, nurses and nursing. The current Council has shown through their failings that they are not the people to do this.

Opinion

‘Student nurses graduate with £54k of debt, shouldn’t we pay them a wage instead?’

The Government claims students are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care”.

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student nurses walking

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and vital to patient care.

While I am pleased for the thousands of students who will soon be starting their journey to become a registered nurse, it comes with a stark reminder.

In November 2015, ministers announced the NHS Student Bursary and tuition fee payment would be cut in a plan to increase the number of available student places.

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Suffice to say, this hasn’t worked.

Instead, we have seen a consistent decline in the number of student nurses qualifying. Official figures from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show an overall decline in applications of 8% since 2015.

There is no debate that nurses need to be degree-level educated – but are student loans the best way to fill an ever-widing gap in our workforce?

The unseen workforce.

Student nurses are the unseen workforce and are sometimes vital to the delivery of safe, compassionate, person-centered care.

Completing over two-thousand hours of hand-on, direct clinical practice over three years – is it fair to ask them to accumulate up to £54,582 (plus 6.3% annual interest) of debt?

With a starting salary of £24,214, this is a debt the majority of nurses will never pay off.

The Government claims that because student nurses are “supernumerary” and “not contracted to provide nursing care” they need to be treated like all other higher education students.

While is it true that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) mandates that student nurses are considered ‘supernumerary’ – how realistic is this expectation? We hear stories of student nurses, trainee nursing associates and healthcare support workers being used to fill nurse staffing gaps on an almost daily basis.

A self-perpetuating cycle.

With an estimated 40,000 unfilled nursing vacancies in the NHS alone, health and social care services in England are stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle.

Chronic under-investment in services has led to an increased demand on staff and subsequently affected recruitment and retention rates. Universities then fail to recruit enough nurses to meet the current demand and so the cycle continues.

The Royal College of Nursing has called on the Government to invest at least £1b per year into nursing education and come up with a long-term plan after its plan to increase numbers has failed to work.

Matching the proposed apprentice wage while student nurses are on placement would go some way towards alleviating the financial burden the government has placed on student nurses.

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Opinion

A fresh start?

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RCN Congress

I’m excited and I’m nervous. I qualified as a nurse just 15 months ago. I left a career in IT of “quite a few years” – I decided I needed a fresh start.

Now I’m sat on a train heading to my first ever RCN Congress. I’m a voting delegate and will be honoured to carry that responsibility for my branch.

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I’m also excited to finally be meeting people that I’ve solely (or mostly) only ever connected with online.

Finally, I’m looking forward to the various debates and resolutions. Listening to the speakers will further inform my views and I might even share a thought or two myself – fortunately speaking in public does not generally worry me (I’ll be the one with the ukulele).

A brief glance back to this time last year when certain “irregularities” were noticed by some members around the pay deal and communications regarding it.

The train of events that followed uncovered a number of poor practices regarding transparency and accountability and our current council were elected to address these.

I also mentioned I am nervous.

Recently, it has become clear that further “irregularities” have occurred – and questions will be asked.

Tomorrow morning is the Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting – an opportunity for members to ask questions. An opportunity for the council to demonstrate its commitment to openness, transparency, and accountability. An opportunity for a fresh start.

I genuinely hope the answers to the questions I raise are clear and dispel the concerns many of us have.

And if they don’t? Well, that’s why I’m nervous.

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