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Heather Mercer Council Hustings 2019

 Dr Heather Mercer 4 Sep 2019

Council Hustings 2019 - Heather Mercer opening statement

Good evening everyone

Last year when we did this there were 5 candidates standing. This year there are just two of us who both stood last year.

So why me, why am I standing?

During the election last year, I made a series of promises, and as your Council member during the last 8 months I have delivered:
• Live streaming of Council meetings.
• Ensuring your voice was heard by Council - I was asked by a member to read out a letter raising concerns members had put forward at a recent meeting. I was advised in the meeting that this was not appropriate, but I did so regardless and will continue to do what I promised to do at last years’ hustings be your voice at the top table.
• Meeting agendas and minutes are now published
• Members can now text, twitter and email into meetings
• The commencement of recruitment process for a Director of Communications
• Supporting the new strategy to actively seek and ensure meaningful membership engagement
• Following through on the recommendations from the ERS Review last year and the actioning of these. Actions that are being closely monitored by Council and Committees.
• A stronger and equal focus for members in the Independent Sector - I am leading on the task and finish group that is working on this.

I’m on the Audit Committee which has been reviewing many of these issues in the last 8 months. And I can confirm that a total review of governance is in hand, including increasing transparency and succession planning for governance roles.  Succession planning is critical to ensure people are being developed to take over these roles as and when needed.

To those who know me I am either a cancer nurse, a health visitor, a nurse educator, a voluntary sector manager or (or rather as well as) an RCN Activist. I hope people know I am to be trusted and will always keep my word and I hope you can see that I have already demonstrated this in the short time I have been on Council.

Having worked at national and international levels, I understand the need for structured arguments, strategic thinking and political awareness. I’m not talking about party politics but understanding how organisations work, how to build strategic alliances with others and how to influence. Several years ago, the NHS England Chief Nurse gave up her right to sit at the ‘top table’. I’m pleased to say that I fully support our General Secretary/CEO’s demand that that role is put back onto the top table. This view doesn’t make the RCN popular in some areas but is what our members need.

Why do I say this? Because for too long we have accepted poor treatment from government, the devolved assembly and the States of Jersey and Guernsey, without using our union and collective professional strength to the maximum. Nurses in Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey have had significant pay issues which need to be addressed. They have been fobbed off and it is only the threat of a strike that makes them start talking and has made them start to take us seriously. How dare they take our members for granted in this way. We must not be afraid to act, and I am proud to have supported these actions.

Our strike action stance demonstrates how important the strength of a strong voice in pay negotiations can be. Demonstrating we are not afraid to act, but also show how we can use our professional agenda and knowledge in being able to work positively in partnership, wherever possible, and deliver for members.
You all know that nursing is challenged daily by inadequate staffing levels, critical shortages of nurses, keenly feeling the loss of our skilled EU nurses and nursing support worker colleagues due to the Brexit exodus but what are our MPs saying? Where are the MPs out there supporting and lobbying for us – not many are there? It is left to the RCN – that is us - to lobby hard, speak out to raise public and political awareness.

To do this effectively, I want to ensure that we can support our members to be confident by funding training for all members in developing political leadership skills. An investment that will pay dividends for our campaigns, negotiations and for governing the RCN as we continue to go forward. 

The safe staffing campaign is one that we all want to be successful.  It’s a battle we will win, but it needs the legislative framework established, and it will take time to redress the imbalance.
Council has acted; we have made a central campaign to demand extra money be pumped into Higher Education to encourage and increase student recruitment. The Students Committee is, quite rightly, leading on this campaign. I am passionate about this as an educator and I well remember arguing that the cuts in paediatric nurse numbers were far too radical, arguing against the Department of Health decision publicly, about those cuts. We have a responsibility to speak up and I am not afraid to speak up on your behalf, to speak up to help create strategic alliances that can strengthen our collective union and professional voice – for members and with members.

Remember, we have a huge voting influence and strength if we only used it. If every nurse in the SE voted at general elections for the candidate who would lobby for nurses and nursing in parliament we would have a powerful voice and influence in the right places, for the right reasons, at the right time and win – win for nursing, for patients, for their carers for services that they and all of us need.

• A strong union and professional body
There has at times been a conflict between the two distinct roles and we are a unique organisation with few comparators. Both should be mutually compatible, supporting and developing each other's roles. The new structure of Council has not always been easy to adopt but it has now been agreed to introduce a Council Member to both the Professional Nursing and Trade Union Committees which I hope will assist in positively developing the role of both Committees and improving the link with Council.
With pay negotiations about to get underway these supportive links are vital.

• Transformation of the organisation in how it engages with the membership:
I have been a member of the RCN for nearly 40 years. Like many, I originally joined for the insurance cover. But it wasn’t long before I began to see the lack of voice that nurses had and realised that unless I became active, I couldn’t complain.
In the Presidential elections last year only 6.9% of members voted for the new President. In the last round of Council elections, this was even less. There was an even poorer turn out for the Professional Nursing Committee elections – another key governance committee. Such important roles and yet we still don’t know why members don’t engage. Is it just that they are not interested, have burn out, is it changes fatigue or that members do not see the RCN as an active force improving the pay and work conditions for nurses? With more active members, we could do so much more, and it would strengthen our influence more so especially when it comes to a Ballot for action.
Throughout this year, Council have had a lot of discussion about how we can get members engaged and, if they wish, become active members. It is a key objective for the Gen Sec/CEO who oversees delivering the transformation agenda with the operational teams. That agenda is vast and some of the first steps on this have been the Safe Staffing Campaign, with many members very active in this – the recent lobby at parliament included regional members who hadn’t done this kind of activity before which was great.
So, we have started to change some of how we engage, and the Safe Staffing Campaign is an example of this.

• lobbying for clear accountability for ensuring the provision of an adequate supply of registered nurses and nursing support staff, throughout the health and social care system to meet the needs of the population, in every country in the UK.

• Having the right number of registered nurses and nursing support staff with the right knowledge, skills and experience in the right place at the right time is critical to the delivery of safe and effective care for patients and clients.

• The outcome of this engagement is a set of RCN principles which represent what we need to achieve on staffing for safe and effective care, through legislation, statutory instruments and guidance, and sufficient funding, in every country in the UK.

Other areas being developed include
• Membership Survey - (is being prepared including consultation on membership categories)
• Member complaints, resolution and conduct policy – (developed with members from committees, forums, etc; now out to consultation)
• New structure and plans for marketing and communications (led by a Director)
• New Task & Finish Group to review the Independent & Voluntary Sector membership needs and services

Our RCN has been predominantly 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. Have we been so focussed on NHS pay and conditions that we may have lost sight of other nursing staff’s inequity in their pay and terms and conditions?  I am pleased that I have been asked to Chair a task and finish group examining the independent and voluntary sector
Radical change is required so that this is truly 'our' RCN and not 'the RCN!'

A vote for me is a vote for change – for changes I have supported so far and would like you to support me to continue driving forward. I would ask you to let me complete the work I have started. One year is too short to achieve the radical change demanded by members.

Finally, a heartfelt thank you to all members, all the reps, stewards and activists who give of their time freely and so effectively for the benefit of other members.

Heather Mercer
September 2019

Dr Heather Mercer

Dr Heather Mercer

Dr Heather Mercer is RCN South East Council Member until 31 December 2019, Board Member and a Nurse with years of experience in the independent sector. 

Page last updated - 04/09/2019