It’s time to be part of the global story again - Jane Salvage
The International Council of Nurses is in the RCN’s DNA. Once headquartered in London, and hosted by the RCN, its luminaries have included many RCN members. Take Daisy Bridges, ICN general secretary 1948-1961. Following in her distinguished footsteps today is Howard Catton, today’s ICN chief executive officer, who served the RCN for many years as activist and policy officer.
Much of my work is in global health. As an RCN adviser and World Health Organization (WHO) staffer, I‘ve seen many international organizations from the inside. Imperfect as they are, we cannot and must not do without them. It’s hard for people at the front line to connect global with local, but that doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. We can’t find solutions to problems that are global in their reach if we only tackle them locally.
ICN speaks out for nursing in many settings that national nursing associations cannot access. Its advocacy in the corridors of power is not always visible - but you are seldom heard or heeded if you’re not at top tables. With nursing struggling in many countries and under-represented globally, our presence there is vital.
I’ve been programme director of the ICN Global Nursing Leadership Institute (GNLI) since 2016, a paid part-time role, so I would say that, wouldn’t I? I’m expressing an evidence-based view as well as a personal one, and no I haven’t been leant on! GNLI aims to help senior nurses learn how to get to top tables and how to be effective there. Our 300 alumnae from 80 countries, including RCN members and staff, make a difference in many leadership roles.
When the RCN left ICN, it was like the UK deciding that membership of the United Nations was too expensive and too cumbersome. The RCN charter requires it to promote nursing through international agencies: much of this was achieved though ICN membership. Alternative access routes are few, and less influential. The voice of British nursing worldwide is muffled and our once high reputation diminished.
I’ve met countless overseas nurses who can’t understand why the RCN left. They feel abandoned and I feel embarrassed. Reform of big, unwieldy, low-funded global organizations doesn’t happen overnight, but from my ringside seat, I see ICN heading in the right direction - and in better shape than when the RCN left. It’s time we were part of that story again.
‘Nurses are citizens, not of one country, but of the world’, as Daisy Bridges said. ICN is not ‘them’ or ‘it’, but us – just as the RCN is us. It’s integral to our legacy, shared history, institutional memory, and humanitarian commitment. The planet desperately needs nurses’ collective wisdom and energy: scaling up our international engagement and rejoining ICN is an important way forward.
Jane Salvage has been an RCN member since 1977. She is an RCN Fellow and has been an RCN activist, steward, chair and member of various RCN committees, and a paid RCN consultant. She is also a citizen of the world.