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RCN Congress, matter for discussion - Jeni Watts

Below is my speech introducing the matter for discussion at RCN Congress 2019 "That this meeting of congress debates if the organisation would be more influential for nursing and health globally if we re-joined the International Council of Nurses (ICN)"


Colleagues, nurses and nursing can change the world.


We have the power to influence and impact global health. In 2016, 17 Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by world leaders at a United Nations summit. Goal number 3, “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages” can be directly influenced by nurses as we are essential to increasing access to quality and affordable healthcare around the world.


We also have power over the way we are perceived and treated as a profession. Issues that affect UK nurses such as pay and conditions, our image and status, recruitment and retention, attacks on health workers and many others are replicated across the globe.

This debate needs explore how we at the RCN can maximise our impact on behalf of UK and global nurses and how we can best contribute to global health.


To do this we must honestly reflect on how influential we are on the global stage, we must look at the global health economy, the current political climate and explore the potential benefits and costs of re-joining.


The setting up of the ICN predates the setting up of the RCN. In 1899 a UK nurse called Ethel Gordon Fenwick along with colleagues from Germany and the United States set up the organisation.


ICN is now a federation of more than 130 nursing organisations that represent the 20 million nurses worldwide. They work to ensure quality nursing care for all, sound health policies globally, the advancement of nursing knowledge, the presence worldwide of a respected nursing profession and a competent and satisfied nursing workforce. ICN has had a formal relationship with the World Health Organisation since 1948.


The RCN was a part of ICN until 2013 when the decision to continue in membership was put to a vote at the Annual General Meeting. The decision to leave was made due to concerns about the ICN’s strategy, operational effectiveness and membership model. Since 2013 ICN has made progress to address its membership model and has implemented a programme of organisational improvement. In discussing re-joining ICN we are not re-examining the democratic decision that was taken by members in 2013. What we are doing, as nurses always must, is acknowledge that things change, we must review the latest evidence and where indicated not be afraid to alter our position.


There is a of course a financial cost to joining ICN and in a climate where our members face pay restraint and, in some cases, working poverty this must be taken seriously. We do not have the current figure for re-joining, but we have membership figure from 2013 which was £614,470. As with any discussion of affordability its’s important to give the context to the figures so if this was the joining fee now with 435,000 members this works out at £1.42 per member per year and the RCN’s overall income in 2018 was £77.8 million,


The RCN’s current international work includes a partnership with the Zambian Union of Nurses and alliances to 5 European organisations, a commonwealth organisation and the International Confederation of Midwifes with an overall cost of £264,000.


Since 2013 the world has significantly changed. Politically we see an unstable and rapidly changing landscape, in health the world has been challenged many things including the Ebola outbreak and an ongoing refugee crisis. All of this in the context of a global health economy with a shortage of nurses that is only set to increase. Another question for us to consider is if we can afford not to join an international alliance.


There has been an increased focus on the impact nursing can make globally. In 2018 the Nursing Now campaign was launched in collaboration with the ICN and the World Health Organization (WHO) and 2020 has been designated the year of the nurse.

Whatever the outcome of this debate one thing is certain for our members, for nursing and world health the RCN must seek to be a global influence for good.


So, what are the benefits? Can we afford the cost? Would we be politically and professionally more influential in or out of the ICN? Its over to you, I look forward to hearing your views.

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