I have been a member of the RCN for nearly 40 years. Like many, I originally joined for the insurance cover. But as I transitioned to an experienced nurse, I began to see the lack of voice that nurses had and realised that unless I became active I could not complain.
Initially I was elected to the Education Forum. Quickly becoming the Chair and then my work began. The RCN Institute responded to all government consultation papers on nurse education .This included pre-registration education papers, despite the fact that the Institute were only involved in post -registration education. This caused significant frustration for the Forum as often the responses were inadequate or did not reflect the real issues facing Universities and pre-registration programmes. It took 4 years but finally it was accepted that any pre-registration issues should be sent directly to the Forum and any other papers we were invited to comment on. This is one example of me engaging membership in a positive and successful way.
As the Chair of the SE Regional Board we have addressed the governance of the region. All branches now have to submit Business plans annually and funding is agreed by the Board. This includes attendance at Congress, student attendance, purchasing of RCN merchandise and monitoring finance to ensure there are no overspends.
There have been significant changes in branch submissions in the last few years. Previously, business plans were either not submitted, submitted late or were a duplicate of previous year's activities. There are several completely new branch officers recently elected and they will be supported by the region, Link Board members and other branches. The Board/Branch/Stewards two day development meeting will ensure that the voice of elected members is heard and will be integrated into the Regional activities for the year ahead.
What has been of concern is the apparent cliques that have existed in certain branches which has deterred members from becoming active. These have now virtually disappeared but perhaps we need to be mindful that long serving officers may wish to step down n order to provide effective succession planning. Many fantastic members are not just branch officers but also stewards and reps and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
But all these changes will only impact on those members who engage with branches, circa 30,000 members.
There are over 435,000 members. But in the recent Presidential elections only 6.9% of members voted for the new President. Why do members not engage? Is it burn out, change fatigue or that members do not see the RCN as an active force improving the pay and work conditions for nurses?
Also, the RCN, has been predominately NHS focussed when over 33% of nurses work outside of the NHS. I have constantly lobbied for a fair percentage of work plans to reflect this employment balance but it has taken a long time to change things. Now with CCGs contracts many are requiring that their nurses do NOT join the RCN. This is totally unacceptable but as an organisation we have been so focussed on NHS pay and conditions that we have maybe lost sight of other nurses inequity in employment conditions and pay.
I would like to see a major research project examining the use of the 'nurses voice' in determining work schedules for future years. We must engage more transparently and effectively.
Radical change is required as we reclaim 'our' RCN and not 'the RCN!'