EXCLUSIVE: Congress is chance to influence the agenda, says Janet Davies
RCN congress 2017 takes place less than four weeks ahead of a surprise general election, giving the annual event an opportunity to push key nursing issues into the spotlight.
The unanticipated political maelstrom makes this ‘a different year than expected’, according to RCN general secretary Janet Davies.
‘The fact we are in the run-up to a general election will change the focus in some ways,’ says Ms Davies.
‘That is so exciting, as we will all be able to engage in political debate and state the case for nurses and nursing and healthcare in the NHS and beyond.’
More than 4,000 people are expected to attend the five-day event at Liverpool Arena and Convention Centre, which starts on 13 May.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron will both address delegates, an indication of how important the vote of the nursing workforce is deemed to be.
‘It is an opportunity for us,’ says Ms Davies. ‘It ties in very well with our manifesto and issues our members have been talking about for a long time.’
The RCN’s recent manifesto includes calls for the future government to commit to safe staffing levels, increasing pay in line with inflation, greater investment in healthcare and the right to remain for European Union nationals.
‘All nurses will be able to recognise the issues in our manifesto because they come from nurses themselves,’ says Ms Davies. ‘The issues are not new and the election does give us another platform to have our voices heard.’
However, she says there is a danger politics could ‘overshadow everything else’, and is clear that the most important part of congress is hearing the ideas and experiences of members.
‘They are the people with the knowledge and the skills – that really is the most important voice during the week,’ she says.
With the congress agenda covering everything from safe staffing and clinical placement hours to nursing associates and sustainability and transformation plans (STPs), Ms Davies expects plenty of debate.
‘I think it is going to be a really exciting congress this year because the topics are so wide-ranging and that is what makes it so interesting.
‘Everyone will be able to engage in something, as our members have been really active this year, putting together engaging and far-reaching resolutions and debates.’
One agenda item asks whether emergency departments should be able to say no to patients in the face of unprecedented pressure and direct them to other services.
‘I think we are going to hear some interesting and probably harrowing stories about people’s experiences and about how they manage when they can’t control the workload,’ says Ms Davies. 'I am really looking forward to hearing what ideas and solutions people have.
‘We know patients are lined up in ambulances outside A&E, which is totally unacceptable, and then the ambulance may not be able to get to someone having a heart attack. The whole question of flow, and how we manage or don’t manage people, is a very serious issue and this is going to be an interesting debate.’
Pay poll results
Many nurses will be eager to learn the results of the RCN pay poll, which will be unveiled at congress on Sunday. At least 41,000 RCN members offered their opinions on what the college's response should be to the recent below-inflation 1% pay award in England, Scotland and Wales.
The options included taking industrial action and taking no action at all.
Ms Davies says the decision to include industrial action in the options was made by RCN council, after it heard from ‘quite a number of members’ on the issue.
‘It was unusual to hear so many people asking council to go for an option to strike,’ she says, adding that nurses might consider such action ‘due to a number of things that everyone is grappling with, wherever they are working as a nurse’.
‘There is increasing pressure and demand. There are not enough staff and they are working many extra hours out of goodwill and not getting access to education and training.
‘Despite all the good work they are doing, nurses feel they are not being valued because there has been a pay cut in real terms and the pay cap is creating true financial difficulties for people.
‘This is not imagined – nurses are doing all this work for the most vulnerable, not being rewarded and they feel totally undervalued.
‘There is genuine financial struggle for the people I believe we should be looking after. It has all got too much.’
Ms Davies says congress helps the RCN to look towards and plan for the year ahead. ‘Our members have the biggest influence on what we are going to work on next year and this guides us.
‘Congress is serious and busy, but also fun,’ she adds. ‘What I love most is catching up with what everyone is doing and hearing everyone’s stories.’
Janet Davies’ congress selection
- Play: Regulating Rita (Fringe event, 15 May, 7pm) A play telling the story of a nurse who gets into difficulty in her clinical setting and eventually ends up in front of an Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) regulatory panel. Ms Davies says: ‘It will be nice to see something about a topic people think is quite scary, that of regulation and NMC hearings, so hopefully people will join us for this.’
- Keynote speakers: Jonny Benjamin and Neil Laybourn (Main hall, 16 May, 12pm) Jonny Benjamin is a British mental health campaigner, author and ‘vlogger’. In January 2014 he launched a social media campaign called Find Mike to search for the stranger who talked him out of taking his own life in 2008 – passerby Neil Laybourn. Ms Davies says: ‘This is a nice professional story looking at mental health issues.’
- Resolution: Clinical placement hours (Main hall, date and time to be confirmed). Resolution proposed by RCN Greater Liverpool and Knowsley Branch asking the NMC to reduce nursing students’ overall clinical placement hours by 300 hours to bring them in line with international counterparts. Ms Davies says: ‘They will be looking at what the optimum number of hours would be. There is an issue there with the number of nursing students and nursing associates and others – how are we going to manage placements?’
For a full list of agenda items click here
In other news
- Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron to address Congress - but the Tories have yet to confirm speaker
- EXCLUSIVE: Poll points to nurses' political learnings ahead of general election