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International Council of Nurses congress 2015, a personal retrospective

Christine Walker, editor of Nursing Children and Young People, looks back on the ICN's biennial conference in Seoul

Delegate from Paraguay at the opening ceremony of the International Council of Nurses 2015

Reporting on the spot at the opening ceremony of this year’s International Council of Nurses’ conference in Seoul, South Korea, was a privilege. To witness all the nationalities from across the globe, gathering together in their sumptuous national costumes often in rapturous delight at being at this vast event was something I won’t forget.

But the ceremony lacked a certain something – any official UK representation. True, there was the now former ICN chief executive David Benton, a Scot, acting as master of ceremonies resplendent in a kilt to make me feel more at home, but for the country that can boast the founder of modern nursing as her own I couldn’t help feeling a little sad. There was no union flag, no national dress – whatever that would be of course - more kilts or Morris dancewear perhaps? Let me leave you in no doubt this was a big event, held in the former Olympic gymnastics arena, attended by thousands and addressed by the South Korean president Park Geun-hye.

The RCN pulled out of the ICN in 2013 in a dispute over the cost of its annual membership fees which worked out as £1.80 per nurse and stood at £550,000 before moves were made to reduce it. The decision to leave sent shockwaves through the Geneva-based ICN. It reportedly made savings - £1.2 million from a £6 million budget - by cutting jobs, travel costs and more teleconferencing. It was also evident at the conference that the ICN has been developing potential commercial opportunities and sponsorship for awards.

ICN president Judith Shamian, a master of diplomacy, insists the split was amicable and they want the RCN to rejoin. I understand that changes to the fees structure have been made and the RCN has not ruled out rejoining at some point but, even with this, there are those in the UK who feel the ICN just isn’t that relevant.

A global economy comes hand in hand with global healthcare problems. Workforce supply and demand issues don’t just affect the UK. Whether universal health coverage will ever be achieved is a world-wide issue. Indeed, the conference became more newsworthy in the eyes of the world’s media because of the outbreak of Middle East respiratory syndrome in the country at the time.

About 130 countries are members of the ICN and it has a new president New Zealander Frances Hughes to lead it forward. There were speakers from the UK in Seoul so there was representation at the event from UK nurses whose work is of great interest internationally.

The next ICN conference is due to be held in Barcelona in 2017. A little closer to home and maybe, just maybe, we might see the RCN back in the fold.

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