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That was then and this is now - Grant Byrne

When the RCN first decided to leave the International Council of Nurses, I was there. Then, and now, I could appreciate some of the arguments to withdraw. As one of the largest members, we contributed a sizable chunk of the ICN’s budget and as that amount increased over the years, it is natural that we began to question whether our ICN membership remained value for money. As a union, it is right that we regularly review how we spend members’ funds, and few would have argued then that the ICN was without issues. In 2013, after 6 years of negotiations, it was those issues, and our sizable financial contribution that culminated in a decision to withdraw our membership from a body we helped found.


That was then though, and this is now. For who could have imagined the shape of the world to come? I doubt many could have predicted, or fully perceived, the global challenges that have grown or emerged in the years since. The West African Ebola outbreak; the ongoing refugee crisis and the ongoing global shortage of nurses are a fraction of the global events that have impacted nurses in recent years and that have necessitated a coordinated global response. Without a strong voice for nurses, we risk decisions being made for us. Now more than ever is a time for us to build bridges to our fellow nurses overseas. With a single voice, we can better influence policy on global scale and in light of Brexit it is more important than ever that we work to protect and grow our influence.


A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting a number of student nurses from across Europe at an EU event. Despite coming from very different places, speaking different languages and studying courses that were almost alien to my own, we faced similar challenges when it came to our education. Student support was on everyone’s lips, as was the quality of practice placements and the importance of degree education. We may have had differences, but we found that we had shared problems and could work towards shared solutions. The same is true of qualified nurses globally.

The need for a strong global voice in nursing is only growing as further challenges develop. As an organisation we must decide whether we choose to be part of that voice, or to stand separately. While I do not seek to dismiss the weight of influence the RCN has alone, I feel now, more than ever, it is vital that we re-join the ICN and stand together as a global nursing community. For the challenges facing nursing globally are growing.


Climate change. We have been warned for some time of its impact, and now we are beginning to see its effects. As nurses we advocate for the most vulnerable, and there is no denying that our changing climate will impact on the poorest in our global society the most. The worst is yet to come, yet the change of pace remains slow. The burden of healthcare on our environment remains sizable too. This is a global issue and only through a global response will we help nurses and our health service weather the worst effects of the changes to come.


I am not arguing that our decision to leave in 2013 was incorrect, I respect the vote that was taken, but the time for change has come. In 2019 it is right that we reconsider our position. There remain issues with the ICN, but we cannot change anything from the outside looking in. At Congress 2019, lets reclaim our seat at the table and join the fight for better for nurses and the communities we serve across the globe.


Grant Byrne is a Student Nurse

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