RCN Congress began with an opening ceremony that celebrated the best of nursing and tipped its hat to the host city of Belfast.
Nursing staff from far and wide were joined by the Lord Lieutenant of Belfast, Fionnuala Jay-O’Boyle CBE, who offered a warm welcome to Northern Ireland.
“Your profession, that delivers compassion without prescription, is very noble, very special", she said.
“Nurses of the RCN, please know that you’re unique, you’re very valued in this city and you’re very, very welcome here.”
The ceremony also saw Cecilia Akrisie Anim deliver her final speech to Congress as RCN President after four years in the role. She urged delegates to unite against the challenges facing the profession and to “try, try and try again” to ensure the voice of nursing is heard.
Reflecting on a high-profile 12 months for the RCN and its members, she said: “What a year it’s been. We’ve walked the wards, marched on the streets and protested outside parliaments across the UK.
“Our faces were on the television news. Our banners were in the newspapers. And our campaigns were the talk of Westminster.”
She added: “We were all up for the fight – and what a fight!”
As a trade union, the RCN was a “force for good and a force to be reckoned with,” she said. “I have always believed in the power of speaking out.”
Pledging to remain a champion for nursing when her presidency ends, she said: “I will continue to stand with you and walk with you.”
With her term of office ending, Cecilia looked back on the remarkable changes she has witnessed in nearly 40 years of nursing.
“When I started in 1979, my clinic was run by a doctor. In 2018, nurses are running GP practices, are independent prescribers and are even performing minor surgery.”
She highlighted the diversity of the nursing workforce and how “difference” benefitted patients. “We need to be different to reflect the communities we service and the people we look after,” she told delegates.
“Let’s continue to respect our diversity, celebrate our difference and reach out to those who face barriers. Let’s support those who are discriminated against and marginalised.”
Addressing Congress on Nurses’ Day, Cecilia said: “Today is our day. Across the world, celebrations are taking place which recognise our profession and the fantastic work we do. Let’s big up nursing!”
The Nurses’ Day film, produced by the RCN to highlight the enormous diversity of nurses’ work, was shown at the ceremony.
The ceremony also saw members honoured for their exceptional contributions to nursing and the RCN. Chief Executive Janet Davies presented the Representative of the Year Awards, which go to safety reps, stewards, learning reps and student information officers who have made a real difference in their workplace or university.
The Learning Representative of the Year award was given to Vanessa Davies from the Eastern region, who was described at the ceremony as having an “infectious passion” for learning. She has given branch meetings a stronger educational focus and made them more accessible by moving them around the county. Colleagues call her a “shining light” and say she exemplifies the vital role that learning reps play.
Kenny McNeil was named Steward of the Year. Kenny has been a steward on Jersey since 2002 and in that time has supported hundreds of RCN members. Examples of his innovative approach include arranging for students to watch a live stream of Congress from their lecture theatre and launching a branch ambassador role.
Daniel Gooding was named Student Information Officer of the Year. Commended in the same category last year, Daniel, from the RCN London region, has again shown incredible commitment. His peers say he always takes the initiative and uses students’ feedback to consider ways of encouraging members to be more engaged. He is active on social media, using it to campaign on nursing issues, and is a champion for equality and inclusion.
The Safety Representative of the Year award was to have gone to Catherine Slater from Wales, described by colleagues as “a star” and highly regarded for her efforts in making the workplace safer for all. But Cathy recently became an RCN staff member, which meant she was no longer eligible to receive the award.
The RCN Award of Merit acknowledges outstanding voluntary service to the College and its membership. This year, seven members were recognised for work in areas as diverse as gastroenterology and the history of nursing.
Over the last decade, Isobel Mason has chaired the RCN Gastroenterology Forum and the network for inflammatory bowel disease. She is committed to transforming care in this area and is a dedicated advocate for all members working in gastrointestinal nursing.
Margaret Graham has given a lifetime of distinguished service to nursing in Northern Ireland. Under her outstanding leadership, the RCN History of Nursing Network in Northern Ireland complied a history of nurses’ experiences during the Troubles – a difficult and emotive process. More recently she led a project to record the work of nurses from Northern Ireland during the First World War.
The Award of Merit given to Sheila Hardy acknowledges her role as a champion for mental health nursing. A key player in the RCN Mental Health Forum, she has sought to improve the academic rigour of the work the forum undertakes.
An international authority on the history of nursing, Dr Claire Chatterton has chaired the RCN History of Nursing Society for many years. In that time, she has revitalised the society and been instrumental in the bi-annual exhibitions in RCN libraries, showcasing the unique work of nurses across the ages.
Described as an “extraordinary inspiration” in ophthalmic nursing, Mary Shaw has dedicated her career to promoting excellence in the care of people with eye conditions. The master’s-level graduate certificate in glaucoma management she developed was the first of its kind. She joined the RCN Ophthalmic Forum in 1998 and became Chair 10 years later.
Jeanette Jones has demonstrated tireless commitment to the RCN. A lead steward at University Hospital Bristol she goes above and beyond for members and is never afraid to challenge plans that could affect their wellbeing and ability to deliver quality care. She is also Secretary of the RCN Greater Bristol branch and Vice Chair of the South West board.
A familiar face at Congress, Sylvia Simmons has been an RCN member for nearly 25 years and has held many positions. Passionate and professional, she is staff-side lead for her trust, supporting members with integrity and working with management for the greater good. She is also a strong advocate of the RCN Foundation and was appointed a trustee in 2014.
Four nurses were also awarded RCN Fellowships in recognition of their outstanding work.
Fellowships reward exceptional commitment to the advancement of the science and practice of nursing, and to the improvement of health care.
Nominees are inspiring individuals put forward by their peers in acknowledgement of their experience, accomplishments and dedication.
Presented with their Fellowships at the ceremony, the four recipients this year are:
Professor Dame Hilary Chapman, one of the UK’s most prominent chief nurses who has made major contributions to health policy, health care delivery and system reform. Recently she co-led the development of the Safer Nursing Care Tool, now widely used to determine safe staffing levels on acute wards.
Yvonne Coghill, an inspirational leader and communicator whose pioneering work has done much to ensure that NHS staff from minority groups feel more supported. Yvonne has led major national projects including the Breaking Through programme designed to equip black and minority ethnic staff with the skills and capability to move into senior leadership roles.
Jessica Davidson, who has dedicated her professional career to clinical leadership in the criminal justice system and is a champion for social justice, with a particular interest in supporting people who find themselves in custody. A leading voice in this area of practice, she is passionate about sharing her work to improve education and policy nationally and internationally.
Professor Ann Gallagher, whose exceptional work and leadership in education and research has brought the field of ethics in particular to the widest possible audience both at home and overseas. Widely published and an accomplished speaker, she is also editor of the international journal, Nursing Ethics.
Read more about RCN Fellowships.
RCN Foundation Impact Awards were presented to Siobhán O'Connor, Julianne Lee, Stephanie McDowell and Abigail Bird. They had all received bursaries to deliver innovative projects that made a positive contribution to patient care. The awards were given to recognise the impact achieved in learning and development to improve the patient experience and nursing practice.