​EU membership and student bursaries to be debated at RCN congress

Janet Davies expects her first RCN congress as general secretary to be a lively affair, with the debate on the future of student bursaries just one of the hot topics

RCN congress 2016 is different from previous years for many reasons. It is the first time the event has been held in Glasgow, and this year marks the RCN’s centenary. For Janet Davies, it is her first congress since being appointed RCN general secretary in July 2015.

‘I don’t believe anyone who says they are confident at public speaking,’ says Ms Davies, talking ahead of her first keynote address to members. ‘It is a nerve-racking prospect, particularly because of the numbers at congress. But we are all nurses together and I will be among friends.’

More than 4,000 people are expected to head to the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow for the five-day event, starting on 18 June.

Difficult topics

And with an agenda covering everything from safe staffing and domestic violence to agency nurses and abortion, Ms Davies expects plenty of debate. She has picked her hot topics to listen out for (see Top Picks box).

‘We aren’t shying away from difficult or even controversial topics,’ she says. ‘I’m looking forward to hearing what our members have to say.

‘Don’t forget, it informs the work of the college over the course of the year. So it is not just about lively debate – it influences our work.’

Ms Davies predicts that the issue on everyone’s lips will be the EU referendum, which takes place the day after congress ends.

While the RCN has taken a neutral stance on the debate, it has produced fact sheets for members on the impact of European Union membership on the profession.

The first agenda item (and matter for discussion) is on the benefits for nursing of remaining in the EU.

Speaking about the college’s decision not to take a position on the referendum, Ms Davies says: ‘Our council decided that we would give our members the facts, but allow them to make up their own minds.’

She is particularly looking forward to welcoming members attending congress for the first time. ‘My advice is to have a read through the programme, find the events that interest you and if you feel passionate about something, don’t hesitate to get up and speak.

When she takes to the stage on the morning of 19 June, Ms Davies will have been in post for almost a year.

She began her nursing career in Manchester in 1975, later rising to chief executive of Mersey regional ambulance trust. Then she spent a decade as the RCN’s executive director of nursing and service delivery.

‘I never thought I would be in this position when I started my career,’ she says of her role.

‘But I have always been a bit of troublemaker, so perhaps being in this job isn’t that unexpected after all.’

She says her first year has been challenging. ‘I’m so privileged to be in this role, particularly in the centenary year – there is never a dull moment,’ she says.

‘We have had the issue of pay in Northern Ireland, we’ve had health and social care integration in Scotland, and we’ve had a very positive year in Wales with the safe staffing bill. In England, we have the bursary, nursing associate and apprenticeship debates all happening close together.’

She says future priorities include continuing the push for safe staffing and the changing models of education and training.

Changing profession

The Nursing and Midwifery Council is developing new standards for pre-registration nursing education. Last month, training body Health Education England announced that plans to train 1,000 nursing associates are on track for 2017. The role will sit between the healthcare assistant and registered nurse roles.

A public consultation on the government’s proposals to scrap the bursary for nursing and midwifery students from August next year closes on
30 June. The RCN plans to share some of their members’ responses at congress.

Ms Davies says the college will continue to push for the nursing profession to be given the recognition it deserves.

‘Good nursing is often invisible,’ she says. ‘What was so striking on International Nurses Day in May was that there were so many people who wanted to thank you.

‘Recognising the knowledge and skills nurses have is an ongoing issue that we are trying to put into the spotlight.

‘Nurses are valuable and need rewarding – in terms and conditions, salary and the working environment. Otherwise we won’t keep them.’


The EU and nursing (matter for discussion, agenda item 1)

Background: A discussion proposed by the RCN public health forum on the benefits for nursing of remaining a member of the EU.

Ms Davies says: ‘This first item promises to be a lively debate on an issue that will undoubtedly come up again and again as congress goes on.’

Student bursaries (resolution and agenda item 2)

Background: Resolution proposed by the RCN students committee asking members to condemn the government’s proposals to scrap the bursary for nursing and midwifery students from August 2017.

Ms Davies says: ‘This is a high-risk move by the government. It could reduce the numbers of people entering nursing and disproportionately affect mature students and people coming to nursing as a second career. Feeling is high among our members about the government’s proposal to scrap student bursaries, and we will be sharing some of our member’s responses to the consultation.’

Agency nurses (matter for discussion, agenda item 7)

Background: A discussion proposed by the Lothian branch on the use of agency nurses.

Ms Davies says: ‘This item is a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of using agency nurses. Some of those attending will be agency nurses, so it will be fascinating to hear from them.’

Further reading

Click here for the full list of agenda items

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