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RCN West Midlands Region

Honorary President's Blog

Margaret Wills

Margaret Wills, Honorary President, RCN South Birmingham Branch

Posted: July 2016

Having recently returned from another successful RCN Congress (in Glasgow this year) I thought it would be good to share with you some highlights of our centenary gathering.

The opening ceremony of Congress took place on Saturday evening 18 June at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC). The procession, led by Pipe Major Stuart Mackenzie, included a traditional marching banner specially designed and hand-sewn for the RCN by members of the Townswomens' Guilds. Nurses wore uniforms from the past 100 years up to the present day. Michael Brown, Chair of RCN Council, welcomed everyone to Congress and our President, Cecilia Anim, gave her address. Various awards were then presented. Congratulations to all concerned.

On Sunday the debating began with hot topics such as the benefits for nursing of remaining in the EU, the decision to abolish student nurse bursaries in England, and a call for the UK to invest in services to promote emotional wellbeing and positive mental health in our children and young people. The keynote speaker, Janet Davies, our Chief Executive and General Secretary, highlighted issues currently confronting the profession and what the future may hold.

Monday's topics for discussion and debate include safe staffing levels, decriminalisation of abortion, pay and seven-day services. An emergency resolution calling for all employers to provide individual training budgets for registered nurses was overwhelmingly rejected.

Congress listened to a rousing speech by Rt Hon Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland. She confirmed that safe staffing levels will become enshrined in Scottish law, and gave a pledge to retain free tuition and bursaries for nursing and midwifery students in Scotland. This was greeted by a standing ovation!

Another emergency resolution on Tuesday revealed strong feelings on the decision to remove nursing expertise from the Department of Health. As a result, RCN Council will campaign for a strong and permanent voice at the heart of the DH. Our Chief Executive and General Secretary has already written to Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State.

In an inspirational keynote speech, former President of the American Nurses' Association (ANA) Rebecca Patton talked about the role her organisation played in achieving the Affordable Care Act. She ended by offering three pieces of advice: ''If you do not go after what you want, you'll never have it. If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. And, most important, if you do not step forward, you'll always be in the same place."

Tuesday afternoon saw the RCN's AGM take place, during which members supported changes to reduce the size of RCN Council to 17, and alter the nomination process for RCN elections. Other topics discussed included the Nursing Associate role, public health funding, the RCN's role in political decision-making, dementia care and rent controls.

Wednesday's keynote speaker reduced many delegates to tears as he shared his experiences of caring for his mother who developed vascular dementia. Since her death in 2012 Tommy Whitelaw has toured Scotland and beyond tirelessly to raise awareness about dementia.

Three nursing students from our branch attended Congress for the first time (all agreeing what a valuable learning experience it was) alongside four other funded members. Any RCN member can attend Congress, but if you get actively involved with our branch funding may be available for Congress 2017 in Liverpool from 13-17 May next year. There are social events too!