It’s been an uncertain few weeks behind the scenes at the RCN. The disqualification of two candidates in the College’s presidential elections kickstarted a series of events that have led some members to call for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM).
The Chair of the RCN’s governing Council resigned, and a new person has been elected to the role – straight talking, long-term RCN activist Dave Dawes.
So how will Dave navigate the next few months and how will he unite members at this most crucial time for the RCN?
He says it’s all about regaining trust.
“The only way through this is trust, openness and honesty. If we rebuild that, then we can get through this. I trust members and will do everything in my power to give them the honesty, the openness, and the transparency they need to help us decide what direction we take.”
That direction is currently being worked out with members who started the petition for an EGM.
Initially that petition called for a pause to the presidential elections, which has since happened, but now the remit of the meeting, what it seeks to achieve, and its timing is being negotiated between representatives of the petitioners and representatives of RCN Council.
Dave says finding a swift way forward is what everyone wants and he’s “cautiously optimistic” of having a productive EGM supported by both Council and the petitioners in the next few months.
The only way through this is trust, openness and honesty
But who is Dave and how is his role on Council relevant to the wider membership?
By his own admission, Dave has been around the RCN block for a bit. He first served on Council as a student member back in 1992, using the opportunity to soak up as much as he could.
“I took it very seriously,” he says. “There I was, very new to nursing, catapulted into a position where I had influence over what was then a £50mn organisation. It was a huge learning curve and I swotted up a lot. You gain so much from being on Council.”
The experience opened doors for Dave and after qualifying and first working in general medicine, he found himself being invited on to boards of other organisations, both in the NHS and outside it.
He’s since taken on roles in commissioning, been a chief executive of an NHS organisation, started numerous social enterprises and worked as a nursing lecturer, which he still does now alongside being the commercial director of a health-related charity.
He’s a busy man, but he’s always made time for the RCN. This is his eighth year on RCN Council, having served in four different decades. He has also been Chair of the RCN North West Board, forum chair, branch officer, accredited rep and member of the RCN Congress Agenda Committee over the years.
His enthusiasm for the College and the potential it has to improve the lives of members and patients has never waned.
“If you’re a nurse who goes into management and leadership, there’s a trade-off. When you’re in clinical practice, you make a huge difference to the lives of a relatively small number of people, some of whom are likely to remember you for years.
“When you’re running an organisation, you can have a smaller impact on a much larger number of people, but there’s no box of chocolates at the end of the day. I’ve always been interested in instigating improvements that have scale. It’s what makes me tick.
"With the RCN, we have 450,000 members and collectively we can make the organisation better for them. A really strong RCN can not only have an impact on its members, it can have an impact on all nurses, on society in general and also improve patient care.”
If members want change, they need to be part of that change
Dave is clear that his priorities include creating a cohesive team on Council and re-establishing its authority in the eyes of the membership.
“Ultimately, the issues that have arisen recently are about the level to which members feel the RCN is member-led and the pendulum swings a lot on that. Members feel that they have very little power right now so we must take note and listen. There is a genuine desire by me, and my Council colleagues, to be more open, honest and transparent and it’s my aim now to make strides on that.
“It can be easy, I think, for all of this to feel abstract to members who aren’t so familiar with the inner workings of the RCN. But from my experience of being on 13 different boards over the past 30 years, I can say that good governance is imperative to the effective leadership of an organisation.
“The RCN has big goals right now. We’ve just started a pay campaign in the midst of a global pandemic. We must make sure the College’s internal structures and processes are robust so that it can deliver what it needs to for members.
“Though these issues may seem introspective, they are relevant to the wider membership because member engagement is absolutely crucial to our success. Take staffing levels, for example. We know our members are hugely concerned about this, and the need to fix the nursing workforce crisis has never been more urgent.
"But if members want change, they need to be part of that change. It’s a cliché phrase, but the RCN is its members. I would encourage all members to become more actively involved with the RCN now.”
As for the presidential elections, they remain paused pending discussions by the governance committee, which has been tasked with presenting options to RCN Council alongside written legal advice.
Disqualifications will not be carried forward, so all original candidates will be eligible to stand in future elections. Dave has also pledged that Council will commission an independent investigation into the presidential election process.
“I hope I can help steer the organisation through the immediate challenges it faces, so we emerge stronger and focused on the priorities that matter most to members,” says Dave. “The RCN works best when it listens to and speaks for all our members and I will be continuing to speak directly to members going forward.”
Since being interviewed for this feature, Dave has announced that campaigning in the RCN deputy president elections is to reopen with voting commencing on 24 September. Find out more.