Congress opens in Liverpool

The RCN’s flagship annual conference began with an awards ceremony crediting the remarkable work of members

RCN Congress in Liverpool kicked off with an impassioned speech by new President Anne Marie Rafferty in which she acknowledged the city’s role in nursing’s history and urged delegates to shape the profession’s future.

It’s 160 years since William Rathbone helped establish Britain’s first district nursing service in Liverpool, motivated by the need to employ a nurse to care for his sick wife. The city was steeped in nursing history, Anne Marie said.

She drew comparisons between Liverpool’s heritage as a staging post for people on the move, always seeking new experiences and sharing ideas, and the dynamism of the RCN’s showcase event. “It’s what this city is all about. It’s what Congress is all about.”

The boundaries of nursing and care are shifting. We are experts in so many fields

She described the ways in which nursing is changing, including greater involvement in societal issues such as domestic abuse, poverty and knife crime. “Health intersects with many other areas of policy and life,” she said. “We are at the heart of that.”

She added: “The boundaries of nursing and care are shifting. Indeed, the very definition of what it means to be a nurse is changing.”She quoted examples, including clinical nurse specialists helping young people caught up in gang culture to rebuild their lives. “We are experts in so many fields,” she told delegates.

Collective strength

The RCN President also highlighted ways in which current policies were failing to deliver – in clogged-up A&E departments, for example, and overstretched mental health services. “But we respond to these challenges,” she said. “We adapt the care we give. We see what needs to be done, and we do it.”

On safe staffing, she said the work undertaken by the RCN and its members was “no ordinary campaign”.

“We shall ensure that our definition of safe and effective staffing is understood by those in the corridors of power. What we achieve over the next few years may be remembered by generations to come.”

She urged delegates to envisage a new future where all current problems and challenges had disappeared; a future that harnessed nursing’s history of innovation, knowledge and collective intelligence to lobby providers and politicians to “make change happen”.

We shall ensure that our definition of safe and effective staffing is understood by those in the corridors of power

“Congress, this future is not a fantasy or a utopia. It’s entirely within our grasp,” she said. “We need to mobilise as never before. We need to show our collective strength and power as an unstoppable force for social good.”

She concluded: “Colleagues, the time is now. I know that together, we can truly change nursing for the better. We can make change happen and we can make change stick.”

Earlier, the new RCN President paid tribute to her predecessor, Dr Cecilia Akrisie Anim. Anne Marie Rafferty said she was honoured to receive the presidential chain from Cecilia, and described her as a “woman of great style and substance”.

She added: “I can’t hope to emulate your sartorial splendour but I do hope to build on the impressive legacy you leave us as outgoing President.”

Addressing delegates at the opening ceremony of Congress, Cecilia said: “You, our members, are the College. You are the heart of the RCN. And it’s been a great privilege to represent you and a pleasure to serve you.”

RCN awards 

The Congress 2019 opening ceremony saw RCN awards given to a wide range of nurses who have made an exceptional contribution to the College and the wider profession.

Representative of the Year awards go to safety reps, stewards, learning reps and student information officers who have made a real difference in their workplace or university.

Steward of the Year was awarded to Ceri Dolan, a nurse manager at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. A steward since 2008, Ceri is a talented and diligent steward with particularly strong partnership-working skills. She received five nominations for the award, with members describing her as a “source of strength” and “one in a million”.

Ceri Dolan, Steward of the year 2019
Pictured left to right: RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN President Anne Marie Rafferty, Steward of the Year Ceri Dolan and Chair of RCN Council Sue Warner

Claire Fisher was named Safety Rep of the Year. Claire became a safety rep because she wanted to speak up on behalf of a colleague. Since then, she has developed a real rapport with senior management at her trust, who listen to and respect her views. Described as “a shoulder to lean on”, she has supported members to become active themselves in RCN projects and campaigns.

Claire Fisher safety rep of the year 2019 1000px
Pictured left to right: RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN President Anne Marie Rafferty, Safety Rep of the Year Claire Fisher and Chair of RCN Council Sue Warner

Learning Rep of the Year is Darren Blake, who recognises the value of collaboration and multi-professional learning. He runs a very successful journal club, attended by clinicians including nurses, consultants, support workers and students. The club offers a chance to review best practice and consider what new approaches could be implemented. He has also developed a range of online resources to support workplace learning, including a website recognised as outstanding by the Care Quality Commission.

Darren Blake, learning rep of the year 2019

Pictured left to right: RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN President Anne Marie Rafferty, Learning Rep of the Year Darren Blake and Chair of RCN Council Sue Warner

Aimie Morgan is Student Information Officer of the Year. Aimie has an infectious enthusiasm for nursing and has been successful in engaging large groups of members in the West Midlands region, keeping them up to date on pressing issues affecting the RCN’s student population. She has played a key role in the College’s Fund Our Future campaign and has recently been involved in the Nursing Now England campaign.

Aimie Morgan, SIO of the year

Pictured left to right: RCN Chief Executive & General Secretary Dame Donna Kinnair, RCN President Anne Marie Rafferty, Student Information Officer of the Year Aimie Morgan and Chair of RCN Council Sue Warner

Service to the College 

The Award of Merit is the highest honour the RCN can give for service to the College. It recognises those who have gone above and beyond to support fellow members, dedicating a lot of time and energy in the process. This year, the award was given to the following members.

Karen Dutton has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to lifelong learning. In doing so, she has created countless opportunities for others to increase their knowledge. She has served on the UK Learning Representatives Committee and her regional board, and has galvanised her local Cumbria branch.

Kathleen Hawksworth is a steward and was secretary of the Jersey branch for eight years. Kathleen has helped to ensure that RCN members are treated equally and fairly. A key activist during difficult industrial relations on Jersey, she has demonstrated a selfless approach, always putting members first.

Anne Marie Marley MBE, a former Northern Ireland Nurse of the Year, was recognised for her tireless commitment to promoting the work of the RCN through roles on the Northern Ireland Board and the RCN Respiratory Forum, among others. Described by peers as a “highly skilled operator”, Anne Marie was influential in the College’s Nursing the Future campaign.

Pauline McIntyre has been a steward for almost 10 years. But she is also Deputy Director of Care for Erskine, which provides support to veterans in Scotland, and she navigates her dual role as steward and manager with great skill. Colleagues describe her “tenacity, dedication and integrity” and say she always takes time to consider the needs of both staff and residents. 

Alison Upton (pictured below), an emergency nurse practitioner in Surrey, is a true champion of patient and staff safety. Her Congress item on assaults on clinical staff set in motion work by the RCN, the Police Federation and supportive politicians to extend the scope of legislation designed to protect nursing staff as well as other emergency workers. A member of the UK Safety Reps Committee, Alison has also found time to raise vital funds for the RCN Foundation.

Dianne Yarwood is a longstanding RCN member and keen historian who has played a pivotal role in helping the College explore its own history and that of the nursing profession. A former nurse educator, she has been a driving force in the RCN History of Nursing Society since its inception and is currently leading the Nursing Oral History project. 

Exceptional commitment 

RCN Fellowships recognise inspiring individuals who have made an exceptional commitment to advancing the science and practice of nursing and the improvement of health care. Nominees are put forward by their peers. Nine fellowships were awarded at this year’s Congress.

The only charity in the UK dedicated to supporting people with pulmonary hypertension was founded by Dr Iain Armstrong, a nurse consultant in pulmonary vascular medicine. Twenty years on, the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA UK) has more than 4,500 members and is recognised worldwide. Most of Iain’s PHA UK work is voluntary and those who have worked alongside him describe him as “life enhancing”.

Professor Jane Ball of the University of Southampton is an expert in nurse staffing research, with an impressive portfolio of more than 125 publications and 3,000-plus citations. She is committed to doing what she believes is best for patients and is always prepared to “speak truth to power”. Jane is a role model for other nurse researchers.

Although retired from his role as Head of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals at the Department of Health, Dr David Foster OBE continues to influence positive change for nursing and midwifery as Chair of the Foundation of Nursing Studies. David had a trailblazing career, which began as one of the UK’s first-ever male midwives. After 30 years in clinical and management posts across several London hospitals, he served in the Department of Health for 10 years. 

An internationally renowned palliative care nurse, educator and researcher, Professor Bridget Johnston was one of the first Macmillan clinical tutors. She has worked with researchers across the globe to advance palliative care nursing and improve the quality of life of people with advanced illnesses. 

Professor Ann Keen was the first registered nurse to be elected to the UK parliament, where she campaigned on issues that included rights for LGBT people and better care for women with ovarian cancer. Before becoming an MP she headed the Community and District Nursing Association, having worked as a clinical nurse for many years.

A former nurse adviser for older people at the Department of Health, Professor Deborah Sturdy OBE is known around the world for her work on older people’s nursing. She currently fulfils many roles including Director of Health and Wellbeing at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Professor Michael Traynor was instrumental in establishing the Centre for Critical Research in Nursing and Midwifery at Middlesex University and his books have been described as “game-changers”. He has made a huge contribution to the RCN and for four years chaired the scientific committee of the RCN International Research Conference.

Much of the remarkable nursing career of Clare Warnock BEM has been dedicated to the care of patients with cancer. Working as a frontline clinician and a successful researcher, Clare has helped foster significant improvements in the way patients are cared for. Her vital work was recently recognised with a British Empire Medal.

Baroness Mary Watkins of Tavistock qualified as a nurse in 1976. She later held a number of senior academic leadership roles, including Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Plymouth. She was appointed a cross-bench life peer in 2015 and in her maiden speech highlighted the link between registered nurse numbers and patient outcomes, arguing for greater investment in nurse education.

Further information


Watch a webcast of the opening ceremony on the RCN Congress website.


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