News

RCN told to update its election rules following independent review

Report by QC says college should modernise election guidelines to reflect social media use

College chair apologises for upset and anger caused by disqualification of high-profile hopefuls in presidential race

The RCN has been advised to overhaul its election rules in light of complaints about the disqualification of two candidates in the colleges 2020 presidential campaign.

Voting was suspended in August after incumbent president Anne Marie Rafferty , and mental health nurse Stuart McKenzie , were disbarred from the poll.

The colleges returning officer, who is responsible for managing elections, said the pair had broken a rule prohibiting the use of RCN resources namely its social media platforms.

College chair apologises for ‘upset and anger’ caused by disqualification of high-profile hopefuls in presidential race

HQ of RCN, which has been told to update its election rules
The RCN’s headquarters in London

The RCN has been advised to overhaul its election rules in light of complaints about the disqualification of two candidates in the college’s 2020 presidential campaign.

Voting was suspended in August after incumbent president Anne Marie Rafferty, and mental health nurse Stuart McKenzie, were disbarred from the poll.

The college’s returning officer, who is responsible for managing elections, said the pair had broken a rule prohibiting the use of RCN resources – namely its social media platforms.

No candidate had sought unfair advantage

An independent investigation commissioned by the RCN’s ruling council, found no candidate had sought unfair advantage – but it also found the returning officer had acted within the rules.

However, the investigation, by barrister Simon Cheetham QC, found the college’s election policy had not been updated adequately.

‘I want to take this opportunity to apologise for the upset and anger some members have felt as a result of our handling of the presidential elections and subsequent complaints’

Dave Dawes, RCN council chair

Mr Cheetham said the policy should be revised to take account of modern communication methods.

And to ensure fairness, all election candidates should have equal access to, and exposure across, all forums.

He disagreed with the returning officer’s interpretation of Mr McKenzie’s use of Twitter.

Mr Cheetham stated in the report: ‘I do not think that sending messages from his private Twitter account fell within the definition of using RCN resources to promote his campaign, whoever was the recipient.’


Coverage of candidates in their professional capacities

The report points to two articles published on the RCNi website during – but not relating to – the presidential election campaign.

Each article quoted a presidential candidate, both of whom were speaking in a professional capacity.

These articles prompted complaints from RCN members.

One piece quoted candidate Yvonne Coghill, the then-RCN deputy president. The investigation report noted while there was no mention of her candidacy and she could not be blamed for appearing in the article, it was nevertheless ‘plainly the use of an RCN resource and the exposure – at least potentially – gave an unfair advantage’.

‘The policy does not require any “guilty” intention on the part of the candidate and I am sure Ms Coghill did not intend to obtain an unfair advantage (and I would say the same of Professor Rafferty and Mr McKenzie)’, the report said.

A second RCNi article quoted candidate Julie Green, who chairs the RCN’s district and community nursing forum.

Mr Cheetham said the views she had expressed ‘were fairly narrowly defined and I doubt this could reasonably have given her any advantage’.


Implementation of report’s recommendations

Dave Dawes, chair of the RCN’s ruling council

Responding to the report, RCN council chair Dave Dawes said: ‘I want to take this opportunity to apologise for the upset and anger some members have felt as a result of our handling of the presidential elections and subsequent complaints.

‘We are a member-led organisation and I will do everything in my power to make it feel that way. I’m absolutely committed to working with members to make the RCN the best it can be.’

He added the council had already made some changes recommended in the report, including amending campaign guidelines for other RCN elections, to allow much greater use of social media platforms.

The RCN said it will review its affiliated social media accounts – including closed Facebook groups – to ensure it is evident to users whether groups are official college forums or unofficial groups that cannot be defined as RCN resources.

The second part of Mr Cheetham’s investigation, to be published shortly, will make recommendations about RCN election processes.

Postponed extraordinary general meeting will take place as planned

The RCN’s ruling council has now decided to press ahead with an extraordinary general meeting about the election, after an earlier postponement.

The meeting had been called in response to a petition from the required minimum of 1,000 members, in the wake of two disqualifications in this year’s RCN presidential election, which has since been suspended.

Last week, the RCN’s council voted to adjourn the virtual meeting, citing the pressures members are facing in the second surge of the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the council said it will now revert to the original meeting date of 27 November.

Council chair Dave Dawes apologised for any confusion caused and said many members felt strongly about the issues surrounding the election.

‘And while the winter pressures and COVID-19 remain as present as ever, we have a duty to listen and act on that strength of feeling,’ he added.

RCN members will be sent email reminders for proxy voting and joining instructions.


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