Comment

Rejoining the ICN: what it might really cost and why I’m urging nurses to reject the option

ICN membership fee could quickly run into millions of pounds, but for what, exactly?

RCN members will be making an expensive mistake if they vote to move towards rejoining the International Council of Nurses

On 14 May, RCN members will be asked to vote on whether or not to apply to re-join the International Council of Nurses (ICN)

Members may recall the RCN voted to leave the ICN at its annual general meeting in 2013. And as one of the main protagonists in the debate, I want to remind members why we left.

Im saddened to write this, as I would have preferred to be encouraging members to vote in favour of the motion. I had hoped that, by now,

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RCN members will be making an expensive mistake if they vote to move towards rejoining the International Council of Nurses

Members of the RCN will vote on the ICN membership issue at the college’s AGM
Members of the RCN will vote on the ICN membership issue at the college’s AGM Picture: John Houlihan

On 14 May, RCN members will be asked to vote on whether or not to apply to re-join the International Council of Nurses (ICN)

Members may recall the RCN voted to leave the ICN at its annual general meeting in 2013. And as one of the main protagonists in the debate, I want to remind members why we left.

I’m saddened to write this, as I would have preferred to be encouraging members to vote in favour of the motion. I had hoped that, by now, the reasons we left might have been addressed. Sadly this does not appear to be the case.

When I saw the size of the RCN’s annual subscription to the ICN, I assumed it was a mistake

When I became RCN chief executive and general secretary in 2007, the college’s finances were precarious. Debts ran into millions of pounds and there was a dramatic drop in membership.

As a consequence, we had to undertake a huge range of economies. When I saw the college’s annual subscription to ICN was £400,000 a year, I assumed this was a typographical error, but it was correct. This astonished me. It was clear we had no information about the ICN’s finances.

I met the then ICN chief executive and explained I found it hard to justify that level of contribution to RCN members while having to cut back on college activities in the UK. I asked for more detailed information about how our subscription was being spent, but was told we were not entitled to this information.

ICN rules penalise organisations with larger memberships

The ICN membership fee structure is based on the number of members you have. The more members the more you pay.

The RCN and the Japanese Nursing Association were the two biggest contributors to the ICN, whereas other countries with larger nursing workforces contributed much less because of smaller organisational membership.

ICN constitution only allows each country to have one nursing organisation as a member. Why this is, is beyond me: I would say the more, the better and I wouldn’t have an issue if Unison or the GMB were members of ICN.

A £450,000 subscription could be better spent in the UK strengthening the number of RCN full-time industrial relations officers, increasing support for reps, steward training and strengthening the legal team, who do such a good job in representing members’

I put it to the ICN that surely the way forward was to broaden the membership to reduce the cost to larger organisations, and potentially offer free membership to nursing organisations from economically poor countries that can ill afford their annual membership fees.

I was informed that this would not be possible as the current membership were hardly likely to vote to allow in organisations that they may be in competition with. One senior person in ICN said to me it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

There are better ways for the RCN to spend £450,000 of your money

I have huge respect for Jeni Watts, who has campaigned vigorously for the RCN to re-join ICN; for ICN president Annette Kennedy and of course for Howard Catton my long-time colleague and friend from our RCN days. Howard is doing a brilliant job at the ICN and his media appearances, particularly over the pandemic have raised public awareness of the outstanding role nurses have played during this difficult time.

Despite this, I cannot take a back seat and not comment. When I left the RCN in 2015, membership stood at a record 435,000 and that trajectory has continued.

At current rates, the RCN will have to pay approximately £450,000 per annum to an organisation that still does not publish the details of its expenditure.

I believe this £450,000 could be better spent in the UK strengthening the number of RCN full-time industrial relations officers, increasing support for reps, steward training and strengthening the legal team, who do such a good job in representing members.

A huge amount of nurses’ money for an organisation that does not explain its spending

If at the annual meeting, the vote is passed to re-join, then of course I will respect it.

However, when RCN members complain they cannot get quicker representation when they are encountering difficulties they may wish to reflect that each year a huge amount of their subscriptions is paid into an organisation that still does not let you know how your hard-earned subscription is being spent.

The solutions are simple. Change the membership criteria and allow membership to more than one national nursing organisation from each country. Associations such as the RCN will still be big payers but far less than is currently proposed. It’s also vital that ICN publishes its annual accounts detailing expenditure including the detail such as salaries.

Over the decades, the RCN has paid millions of pounds to ICN and if we re-join at current rates over a five-year period it will be more than £2 million. In addition, this could see increased expenditure of college staff and members attending ICN conferences and meetings.

All of this is why – with great reluctance – I will be voting against the resolution.

The view from the other side: why we should re-join the ICN

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