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RCN culture inquiry finds 'division and distrust'

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen apologises on behalf of the college and promises justice for complainants and victims
The RCN headquarters in London

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen apologises on behalf of the college and promises justice for complainants and victims

  • Report says RCN is riddled with division, dysfunction and distrust
  • In addition, report reveals poor representation of women and members from ethnic minority backgrounds on RCN council
  • General secretary Pat Cullen pledges to overhaul the RCN and says those implicated may face internal and regulatory action

The RCN has pledged to overhaul its processes after an independent inquiry found the

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen apologises on behalf of the college and promises justice for complainants and victims

  • Report says RCN is riddled with division, dysfunction and distrust
  • In addition, report reveals poor representation of women and members from ethnic minority backgrounds on RCN council
  • General secretary Pat Cullen pledges to overhaul the RCN and says those implicated may face internal and regulatory action
RCN headquarters in London
RCN headquarters in London

The RCN has pledged to overhaul its processes after an independent inquiry found the organisation was ‘riddled with division, dysfunction and distrust’ and recommended further investigation into sexual conduct at its annual conference.

Leading barrister Bruce Carr KC was asked to carry out the review of the culture at the nursing union in September last year following allegations of sexual harassment, poor governance and financial mismanagement.

The RCN published his findings on 10 October. They identified a ‘culture of suspicion’ between the RCN council and executive, poor representation of women and members from ethnic minority backgrounds on RCN council, and a trend of taking decisions ‘on the hoof’ without scrutiny, planning or purpose.

The report contains substantial quotes from individuals who gave evidence and Mr Carr said that, as far as possible, he had avoided making findings of fact where there are disputes between individuals and factions within the college.

'Loud and abrasive male voices dominate the environment'

Mr Carr found there was mistrust between the council and executive that had led to a lack of scrutiny and due diligence on key decisions. He concluded that the current setup of the council was not fit for purpose due to a lack of representation of women and members from ethnic minority backgrounds, and that many saw it as a body ‘in which loud and abrasive male voices dominate the environment to the detriment of women’.

Mr Carr recommended the RCN carry out ‘a detailed fact-finding investigation… to identify the extent to which the inappropriate sexual culture at congress has actually resulted in exploitation of the vulnerable’.

Name plaque outside RCN headquarters

He said there had been some improvements over the past 12 months or so and laid out 26 recommendations to build on this action. They include new harassment policies and training for staff, council members and members; refreshing the respect charter; increasing online interaction with members; developing a proactive diversity strategy; changing voting arrangements at congress; and potentially scrapping the emergency general meeting protocol.

'Widest possible consultation with members' recommended

Mr Carr also highlighted tensions arising from the fact the college is both trade union and professional body, with a combined general secretary and chief executive officer.

He said disagreements about whether there should be a split in the roles were likely to contribute to ongoing division with the RCN, adding: 'both of these boils need to be lanced' .

He recommended the 'widest possible consultation with members' to resolve the issue.

The report included evidence from individuals who described a ‘toxic’ and ‘misogynistic’ environment where staff felt bullied and undermined, leading to high turnover of senior staff.

General secretary Pat Cullen apologises on behalf of RCN

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen, who took up the post after the allegations emerged, has pledged to overhaul the organisation as a result of the Carr review. She promised that ‘no individual is beyond reproach’ and those implicated in the report would be investigated and face internal and regulatory action if appropriate.

‘Where behaviours have fallen short in the past, I apologise today on behalf of the entire RCN. I will hold this report close as I redouble efforts to overhaul this college and give members the strong, professional and genuinely representative organisation they deserve,’ she added.

Since the publication of the Carr report one member of the RCN council has stepped down 'out of respect for corporate responsiblity and not as a result of any association with the behaviour in the Carr report'.

Mr Carr did highlight 'positive voices amongst the gloom' who wanted the RCN to succeed as an organisation.

On 11 October at 6.30pm, RCN members are invited to a virtual Q&A session with general secretary Pat Cullen and RCN president Denise Chaffer. They will talk through the findings of the report, explain how recommendations will be taken forward and take initial questions and reflections from members.


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