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Why wouldn’t we want to be part of the Global Nursing Family? - Paul Irving

Updated: Mar 4

Looking back I can remember it vividly. The 2013 Royal College of Nursing’s Annual General Meeting where we discussed the merits and demerits of staying in the International Council of Nurses (ICN). It was at times a heated debate covering several topics including the ICN’s strategy, operational effectiveness, and membership model.


By 2013, the membership of the RCN was just over 400,000 and the RCN’s financial contribution to the ICN had risen dramatically in line with increases in RCN membership. By 2013, the RCN was funding 16% of ICN’s overall fee income which had brought about the motion at the RCN AGM that year. The full cost of the membership subscription at the time for the RCN was £614 470, due to the size of its membership. This worked out to be approximately £1.70 per member per year at the time.


The decision to continue in membership was put to the vote and it and the result in favour of to authorise RCN Council to withdraw the RCN from membership of the International Council of Nurses passed at 91.7%.


The ICN is a federation of over 130 national nurses’ associations (NNAs), was founded by nurses from the UK, the US and Germany in 1899 - 17 years before the RCN. Over the years it has grown to represent many millions of nurses and can be said to be the only organisation that speaks for nurses from a truly global perspective.


It represents nursing at the annual World Health Assembly and works with the World Health Organization, the International Labour Organization and other partners. Much of this work is done behind the scenes and might not always be instantly visible.

Its leadership is all the more important in recent years when nursing, before the pandemic, had been losing ground globally. There is a global shortage of nurses which has become even more acutely visible during this pandemic and is set to get worse if major steps are not taken.


Nurses from all over the world value ICN membership in a way that we in the UK value our RCN Membership but that in part is because of the many different forms of support we are lucky to have. The ICN uses its influence to help raise the profile of nurses in those countries where the impact of nurses and nursing isn’t valued by educating governments and negotiating on their behalf.


The ICN works to ensure quality nursing care for all and sound health policies globally. The many activities include leadership development; shaping nursing policy; fighting for nurses’ socioeconomic welfare; improving nursing practice, regulation and education; and many projects in the field, from providing mobile libraries for nurses in African countries to campaigning for better working conditions.


It is also renowned globally for developing workforce management policy and mobilisation. All these initiatives and impacts demand working across a united front with United Nations agencies; no other body represents the interests of nurses so forcibly. Many major health problems, as our current pandemic has highlighted, do not respect frontiers, and can only be solved collectively and globally.


The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, is a vision for a healthier and better world. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing - in a global partnership. They recognise that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education.


I have been part of the RCN for over twenty years now and in that time it as an organisation has made claims of being the voice of nursing and having a global impact beyond the borders of the United Kingdom. To do that I feel that we need to be part of a global organisation that is respected by the United Nations and the World Health Organisation. We should be contributing to the Nursing agenda on a worldwide scale and I feel membership of the ICN would aid us in that.


This past year the ICN has been a beacon of light during this pandemic. They have conveyed to the world the impact of Covid-19 on nurses globally through media briefings that have gained international attention. When the media want a global insight into the impact of Covid-19 on Nurses and health workers. They have collated, where known, the number of nurses who have died from Covid-19, pressuring governments to provide better access to PPE, or speaking about nursing as the collective voice of some 130 nations.


As a Scotsman, I am very aware of the need for fiscal prudence rejoining the ICN will not come for free. The RCN will have to set aside half a million pounds annually from the budget (roughly about 0.7% of the operational budget) but this amount has been capped with assurances from the ICN. Those of you with an eye for detail will note it is less than our cost of membership in 2013. I can’t think of many things that have reduced in price in the eight years since 2013. This would amount due to a marked increase in membership to around £1 per member annually.


I think that the benefits to the RCN that membership of the ICN brings in terms of a global voice and a global influence really would be a prudent use of those funds. For all the reasons outlined above, I would advocate The RCN rejoining the ICN.


Paul Irving is an Assistant Professor - Nursing and Global Engagement

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