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Congress fringe: ‘RCN’s dual role of professional body and union only makes it stronger’

But college is failing to be a trade union for nurse academics, meeting told 

But college is failing to be a trade union for nurse academics, meeting told 


Meeting chair Kath McCourt. Picture: Barney Newman

The RCN needs to remain a trade union as well as a professional body if it is to challenge issues like unsafe skills mix, a congress fringe meeting heard.

However, the same audience was told the college is not responsive to the needs of nurses working in higher education.

The gathering was held to discuss whether the college can be effective as a trade union while also operating as a professional body.

Conflict of interest charge

Meeting chair Kath McCourt recalled how the 2013 Francis report into care failings at Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust urged the RCN to consider dividing the college between its trade union and professional functions.

However, 99% of delegates at that year's RCN congress voted for maintaining both roles.

Professor McCourt said college members had made it clear ever since that it is precisely the combination of functions that makes the RCN a stronger organisation.


Tracey Budding, chair of the RCN’s
trade union committee. 
Picture: Barney Newman

Wearing two hats at once

Tracey Budding, chair of the RCN trade union committee, said the current safe staffing campaign shows how the RCN can be a professional body as well as a union. 

‘If our members don’t have the resources and staffing, and the skill mix is unsafe, we need both arms of the college to win that fight,' she said.

‘RCN has not represented our views’

However, RCN education forum deputy chair Sarah Burden was critical of the college's effectiveness as a union for university nursing academics.


Sarah Burden, deputy chair of the
RCN’s education forum.
Picture: John Houlihan

She said: ‘The trade union has failed faculty [staff] in higher education. We have had a pay rise that didn’t fit. Our pensions are being challenged. We are not integrated into branch structures – nobody has represented our needs.

‘We have struggled to recruit into higher education as our pay is significantly less. So most of my colleagues are not RCN members as they don’t feel the trade union represents our views.’

Tara Bartley, an RCN fellow, said there were organisations that the RCN could look at. ‘The British Medical Association is a model that professes to represent both the trade union and the professional side.

‘And if we look at other unions that represent nurses alongside other health workers, for example Unison, we pay the same price as they do but we get two for one with the RCN – you get the union arm and you get the professional side as well.’ 

Read the latest from RCN congress here 


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