Review of the year

We take a look at the highlights from RCN Bulletin during 2018



The first issue of RCN Bulletin in 2018 acknowledged the outstanding contribution to health care of many members, among them Neomi Bennett, who received a British Empire Medal in the New Year Honours for services to nursing. Neomi’s invention, the Neo Slip, featured in the TV programme Dragons’ Den and is used to help those with deep vein thrombosis.

The magazine also carried an interview with two pioneering women whose profound deafness proved no barrier to successful careers in nursing.

Helen Cherry was one of the first deaf people to begin nurse training and now works in education, while Jackie Wan is a community nurse and part of a team that provides services to deaf children and adults.

Jackie WanJackie Wan (left) with a colleague

Festive spirit in the NHS seemed largely forgotten by the first week of 2018 with new figures from NHS England exposing the extreme pressures on the service between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, when bed occupancy for the week topped 93%. The RCN warned of a full-blown crisis and called for a “fundamental review” of health and social care.

Meanwhile, the RCN launched a survey to gather members’ views on organ donation. Last reviewed in 2009, the College’s position was to support an opt-in system. But much had changed in the intervening years, with each UK country given the power to make its own laws on consent for organ and tissue donation.

Launching the consultation, policy adviser Rachel Cackett said: “This is an issue that many people feel passionate about. All members’ views are important, regardless of how regularly they deal with these issues.”



The RCN launched a new website that used personal scrapbooks, diaries and photo albums to bring to life the experiences of nurses in the First World War.

Service Scrapbooks: Nursing, Storytelling and the First World War showcases material from the College’s archive to describe nurses’ work in military hospitals overseas and at home.

Background image: The Sacred Twenty. Courtesy of Naval History & Heritage Command, S-581 Josephine Beatrice Bowman Collection

Celebrating the month of romance, RCN Bulletin spoke to members who found love through nursing.

Students Dann and Lucy got together after meeting at an RCN event, while Rebecca and Saana met while working in an intensive care unit. 

Both were on duty on the night of the London Bridge terror attack. “It was nice to go home after that and be able to understand what each other had gone through,” said Saana.

RCN members and critical care nurses Saana and Rebecca Saana and Rebecca. Photo by Gareth Harmer

RCN members joined thousands of protestors who marched through London to fight for the future of the NHS. 

Organised by Health Campaigns Together and anti-austerity group the People’s Assembly, the event culminated in a rally opposite Downing Street addressed by RCN President Cecilia Akrisie Anim, among others. Cecilia told the crowd:

It’s 70 years since the formation of the NHS and nurses have always been at the heart of it. Urgent action is needed to address the current crisis. We will continue to speak out to defend our NHS

Brexit was an almost daily presence in the media throughout 2018 and in February the focus was on the impact on the NHS of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.

The Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted the devastating effect of ongoing uncertainty for the 60,000-plus EU citizens working in the NHS in England. 

Janet Davies, the then RCN Chief Executive, said: “If there is a Brexit cliff-edge in migration, it will be the NHS going over it.”

Photos from the march...



To encourage nursing staff to “rest, rehydrate and refuel” during shifts, the RCN launched a suite of resources designed to counter the excessive workplace pressures that were forcing many staff to skip breaks. 

“Missed breaks have become the norm and this is not sustainable,” said Kim Sunley, RCN National Officer.

The Duchess of Cornwall became a champion for nurses, backing the Nursing Now campaign aimed at raising the profile and status of nursing around the world. The RCN is an official supporter of the three-year campaign.

RCN rest, rehydrate and refuel campaign

However, spring brought little relief for the beleaguered NHS. The unseasonal “Beast from the East” meant that much of the UK was blanketed in snow and ice, presenting huge problems for staff trying to get to work.

And the results of the NHS staff survey showed the sharpest ever rise in dissatisfaction with pay. But March also brought the announcement that members in England were to be consulted over a proposed pay deal.

In the regular Meet the Member slot in RCN Bulletin, children’s nursing student Jannat Kasule was asked what she would choose if she could be granted a superpower. “I’d speak every language in the world, including baby,” she said. “That would be so helpful in neo-natal.”

RCN member Jannat Kasule

Jannat Kasule



The so-called “Spanish” flu pandemic of 1918 killed 228,000 people in Britain and 50 million worldwide. One hundred years on, a new exhibition in the RCN Library and Heritage Centre explored the history of infection control nursing, from influenza, fever hospitals and tuberculosis to HIV and Aids, and Ebola.

Frances Reed, of the RCN Library and Archive Services, said: “Nurses have always been at the forefront of infection control and prevention – a position that, through occupational exposure, does not go without risk.”

Elsewhere, members’ views were sought on the changes required to bring about parity of esteem in mental health services

Evidence that people with mental health problems have poorer physical health than the rest of the population led to commitments by UK governments to value both equally. But at RCN Congress in 2017 delegates had criticised the lack of progress.

Glove Awareness Week, hosted by the RCN, brought an opportunity to remind members about the importance of hand hygiene and appropriate glove use. 

Rose Gallagher, RCN Professional Lead for Infection Prevention and Control, urged all nursing staff to improve their hand health, share best practice and “ensure gloves are only worn when they are needed”.

Are you glove aware?



Robots in health care, public toilets and body cameras were among the eclectic mix of subjects discussed at RCN Congress in Belfast, as well as core issues such as nursing pay and nurse education.

Among the guest speakers were prize-winning author and nurse Christie Watson. In an interview with RCN Bulletin, she was asked which was more challenging, nursing or writing. 

“Nursing!” she said. “Of course, without a doubt. Yes, I am proud to be an author and it’s a real privilege to write books, but to be a nurse is the greatest privilege of all.”

To be a nurse is the greatest privilege of all
Author and nurse Christie Watson (pictured above)

Prison nursing also featured at Congress, after the RCN warned that the spice drug epidemic in jails was putting nurses at risk as well as inmates. Psychoactive fumes from the drug were posing a serious risk, with staff reporting that they were sometimes unable to drive home safely after work because of the drug’s effects.

A new RCN report found that nursing staff were missing out on essential clinical training because of cuts to budgets and workplace pressures. A third of nurses said that during the revalidation process they had managed only 10 or fewer hours of continuing professional development training each year, falling short of the 35 hours required.

The RCN said that for the sake of patient safety policymakers and employers had to find ways to fund training.

In the spring issue of RCN Students magazine, Katie Dutton explained how a near-fatal episode of sepsis strengthened her resolve to become a nurse. She now campaigns for greater understanding of the condition among fellow nurses.

“Nursing staff and students can play a key role in helping prevent cases like mine happening by helping spot the signs early,” she said.

katie dutton

Katie Dutton



The big news in early summer was a vote in favour among RCN members of the proposed NHS pay deal, following a six-week consultation. Three in four members who took part in the vote said yes to the deal, which would mean a pay rise in July backdated to 1 April.

The agreement covered staff in England, with pay negotiations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at different stages. The RCN said the deal was not the end of the fight for fair pay but a “good first step”.

June also saw the 70th anniversary of the arrival at Tilbury docks of HMT Empire Windrush bringing people from the Caribbean to start a new life in Britain. It is estimated that over the next 25 years about 100,000 nurses came to train from the Caribbean and Africa. The RCN said the Windrush generation and their descendants were a credit to society and to the nursing profession.

RCN member Fiona Chaâbane received an award from the BBC programme The One Show for her work as a younger onset dementia specialist nurse. She told RCN Bulletin: “The impact of neurodegenerative disease in a younger person cuts across generations and relationships, services and care boundaries.”

RCN member Fiona ChaabaneFiona Chaâbane

The first-ever nationwide protocol for using dogs in health care was launched. The RCN document acknowledged the growing role that animals can play in health and care settings, and laid out ways in which concerns about introducing dogs to clinical environments can be addressed.

He’s not just my companion, he’s constantly managing my health. Magic’s saved my life on many occasions and without him, I wouldn’t be alive today
Claire Pesterfield talking about her medical alert assistance dog Magic (pictured below)



While the nation – some of it – was gripped by England’s progress in the football World Cup, nursing attention was focused on Emilia Clarke and her speech at the RCNi Nurse Awards 2018.

The Game of Thrones actor and RCN ambassador spoke for the first time about the care given to her father in the days before he died, describing the “awe-inspiring skill” and “emotional intelligence” of the nurses who looked after him. Ms Clarke presented the Nurse of the Year award to Angela Hall, a cardiac specialist at Jersey General Hospital.

RCN Ambassador Emilia Clarke

RCN ambassador Emilia Clarke

Two years on from the withdrawal of the NHS student bursary, it was reported that applications to nursing degree courses had plummeted by a third in England. The RCN said it was clear that removing the bursary had been a “disaster” and urged ministers to reconsider before patients suffered the consequences.

Later in the month, it was announced that BJ Waltho had been elected Chair of RCN Congress. 

With more than 40 years’ experience as a nurse, BJ served as Vice Chair of Congress from 2014 and was Chair of the RCN Dorset branch for 10 years.

I always leave Congress feeling inspired and reinvigorated and I hope to share that passion with our members so that they get the most out of all that Congress has to offer
BJ Waltho, Chair of RCN Congress (pictured below)



The RCN said it had commissioned an external review following an apology to members from Janet Davies, Chief Executive at the time, about confusion over the pay deal offered to staff in England. The review would examine the governance and processes surrounding the RCN’s understanding and communication of the offer. Its findings would inform an Extraordinary General Meeting to be held in September. 

Later in August, it was announced that Janet would be standing down at the end of the month. Dame Professor Donna Kinnair took on the role of Acting Chief Executive.

Dame Donna Kinnair

Dame Donna Kinnair

Meanwhile, health unions in Scotland voted to accept a three-year pay deal, and RCN Wales launched a consultation on a pay offer made to Agenda for Change staff working for the NHS in Wales.

There were dire warnings that learning disability care was facing crisis after it was revealed that half of universities in England were considering scrapping learning disability nurse courses. Latest workforce data showed a 40% drop in specialist learning disability nurses since 2010. The RCN said nursing shortages were harming some of society’s most vulnerable members.

And RCN Bulletin profiled member Iain Keenan, who teaches at the University of Essex. But he is also an RNLI volunteer, helping to crew the Southend lifeboat, one of the UK’s busiest.

“I’m normally the one who gets called out to people in distress as the rest of the crew know I’m a nurse and have the skills to remain calm in those kinds of situations,” he said.



The independent review into the way the RCN communicated details of the NHS pay deal for England found that members had been unable make an informed decision based on the information made available to them. The Extraordinary General Meeting held after the report’s publication triggered several resignations. A motion of no confidence in RCN Council was passed by 78% of those who voted.

After sustained campaigning by members, a law was passed in England and Wales that strengthened the protection given to health care staff from assaults. 

However the College warned the bill’s passing was not the end of the fight, saying that improved staffing and greater support from employers would mitigate the risks facing many nursing staff.

September also saw the launch of RCN Scotland’s safe nurse staffing campaign. With the nursing and midwifery vacancy rate standing at 5.3%, and one in 20 posts in NHS Scotland vacant, RCN Scotland Director Theresa Fyffe said it was time for change:

Evidence shows that having the right number of nursing staff with the right skills and knowledge is linked to better outcomes

This success goes to show what members can do. This sends a clear message that it is never OK to assault nursing staff
Ali Upton on the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill. Pictured below (left) with fellow RCN UK Safety Reps Committee members Billy Nichols and Denise McLaughlin

Meanwhile, RCN Health + Care, the magazine for members employed as health care support workers, spoke to Beth Cook and Sharon Thompson, whose innovative roles help patients regain their independence at home. 

The two care workers assess patients before or after hospital discharge and both enjoy promoting independent living. “Seeing patients smile when they complete a simple task is great,” said Sharon.

HCAs Beth Cook and Sharon Thompson

Beth (left) and Sharon



After the no-confidence vote at the Extraordinary General Meeting in September, it was announced early in October that RCN Council would be stepping down. In a statement the Council said that although the vote had been advisory, its “moral weight” had been recognised.

Acting Chief Executive Dame Donna Kinnair said: “The College is already changing to ensure it engages the full breadth of its membership. A new elected Council and a permanent Chief Executive and General Secretary will bring that fresh perspective and energy.”

World Mental Health Day fell on 10 October and RCN Bulletin asked members for their top tips for self-care. “Do something you believe in,” palliative care clinical nurse specialist Karen Chilver advised. “Campaigning to save our NHS helps me feel less cross.” Or, she suggested, do something you love: “Swim, read, sleep, eat pizza.” 

Sue Dean said she built resilience by spending time with family and friends, walking her dog and regularly getting away, even if only for a few days. “I also ride a Harley Davidson motorbike which clears the cobwebs,” she added.

Black History Month was marked by a series of RCN events designed to recognise and celebrate the contribution of nursing staff from black and minority ethnic groups.

And a new exhibition at the RCN’s London headquarters marked the leading role of nurses in achieving better health care for women. 

Debra Holloway, Chair of the RCN’s Women’s Health Forum, said the exhibition showed how nursing staff have been pivotal in changing understanding of women’s health.


Background image from the RCN Library and Heritage Centre exhibition "The Wandering Womb" which is open until 22 March 2019



Anne Marie Rafferty, Professor of Nursing Policy at King’s College London, was elected President of the RCN by the College membership.

She told members: “I am thrilled to have been elected. It is a huge privilege to become RCN President and I’m looking forward to supporting the profession and the College in the best way that I can.”

Anne-Marie Rafferty, RCN President

Anne-Marie Rafferty

She said that when she takes up the position in the new year her priority internally will be to tackle governance and communication in the RCN, while nurse staffing levels would be her focus externally.

Yvonne Coghhill, Director of the Workforce Race Equality Standard at NHS England, was elected Deputy President.

Marking the day 100 years earlier when the guns fell silent in the First World War, the current RCN President, Cecilia Akrisie Anim, laid a wreath on behalf of the College at the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in memory of nursing staff who gave their lives in caring for others.

Voting opened for the candidates standing for election to RCN Council, and in Northern Ireland the RCN consulted members about industrial action over the continuing absence of a pay award for 2018-19.

Fiona Devlin, RCN Northern Ireland Board Chair, said: “Nurses’ pay in Northern Ireland has fallen significantly behind the other three UK countries, despite the fact that we are supposed to have a four-country framework for pay, terms and conditions.”

It was Transgender Awareness Week in November and RCN Bulletin spoke to nurses who support people seeking treatment to bring their bodies into alignment with their gender identity.

Lucy Evans, a specialist nurse at the Gender Identity Clinic in London, described demand for the clinic’s expertise. “It’s an incredibly busy service,” she said. “There are around 7,000 people actively under the care of the clinic but many more on the waiting list.”

You spend so long keeping everything inside, then you arrive and for the first time you feel accepted. The staff here really do understand
Holly (pictured below centre) talks about the care she received at the Gender Indentity Clinic. Also pictured Lucy (left) and Iffy (right), specialist nurses



The results of elections to 12 seats on RCN Council were also announced. Acting Chief Executive Dame Donna Kinnair said the field of candidates was “exceptionally strong”. Donna said: “The College is fortunate to attract people with such broad experience to these top roles.”

As the furore over Brexit raged on through December, a group of RCN members met with MPs and peers to highlight concerns about the impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU on the nursing workforce.

Image with text reading Nursing at Brexit point

Theatre nurse Anna Green, originally from Poland, now working in Portsmouth, said: “Losing a significant number of EU nurses will have an impact on the quality of care.”

But despite all the pressures, the power of nursing to enthral its practitioners continued to shine through.

RCN Bulletin asked members about their proudest moment of 2018. 

Angela Lord said: “My first day as a registered nurse after my return to nursing course. After years of home educating and doing daily therapy for my two beautiful autistic children, it is wonderful to be back and able to provide nursing care for my patients in cancer services.”

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