‘There was much to be hopeful for in terms of resolutions passed’

I am currently on a train heading home after two days attending the Royal College of Nursing Congress in Glasgow, the first in-person annual conference by the organization since 2019.

For the first time in a long time, it meant I was out of the office – both home and the actual one in London – for more than 24-hours.

It felt somewhat like a grand adventure, despite the early start, complex travel connections and heavy rain.

“It was great to be back and feel the energy of members of the nursing profession united in voice on the issues that matter”

It was good to be back at a large event, scurrying between the debating hall, the press room and the Nursing Times stand in the exhibition area, and with the chance to speak to a lot of familiar faces.

Both pay and staffing are, however, arguably bigger issues now, with the rising cost of living beginning to bite ever more strongly and the global shortage of nurses running unabated in the face of demand.

These have, of course, been joined by debates on Covid-19, many looking back at how nurses were failed during the early months of the pandemic on planning, appropriate protection and much more, including lessons for the future.

A guest appearance by the poet Michael Rosen was especially poignant and powerful. He received a standing ovation after reciting extracts from his treatment diary, which was written by nurses while he was unconscious in intensive care with Covid-19.

Likewise too, the conference focused on how many nursing staff were being negatively affected by long Covid and their need for more support.

A resolution from the RCN’s Nurses in Management and Leadership Forum, which attracted many speakers and was voted through by a large majority, called for nursing staff with long Covid to receive and effective support.

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Two heavy-weight quotes also featured, one in person and the other thankfully not, as it wouldn’t have been pretty.

The latter is, of course, Boris Johnson who survived a vote of no confidence from Conservative MPs on Monday night.

RCN Congress marked the event by urging attendees to put their names to a giant letter addressed to the prime minister.

The letter read: “Westminster is turning in on itself once again and not focusing on the real issues – waiting lists; staffing shortages; fair pay; cost of living; social care; and supporting students to name a few. Get a grip. Every day you focus on yourselves, patient care suffers.”

Meanwhile, former Labor prime minister Gordon Brown gave a substantial well-received speech to congress that called for nurses to be better paid among other things. It was difficult, however, to forget that he was no longer an active influence on the incumbents of Westminster.

It backed up the words on the first day of the present RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, who called for decent pay while also telling the conference that staffing shortages were causing risk to patient care and that “enough is enough”.

On the same day, a resolution was passed asking RCN Council to “lobby legislators” to make ‘nurse’ a protected title.

As Nursing Times readers will know, only ‘registered nurse’ is currently protected in UK law, meaning people with no nursing qualifications and those who have been removed from the register can call themselves a nurse.

This is something that surely needs to change and the campaign to do so will be helped by the official, though slightly belated, backing of the RCN.

In my view, the atmosphere in the main conference hall was greatly positive, professional and courteous, and less likely than in previous years to descend into delegate disagrees over correct procedure and wording of resolutions; a very welcome development.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, little was made of the leadership turmoil that mentions the union in recent years, with several former key players on the stage in 2019 now present gone from the scene and still no sign of the report of the Carr review into the culture of the college.

Overall, there was much to be hopeful about in terms of the resolutions that were passed and that will guide the RCN leadership’s policy direction over the next 12 months.

As ever though, after several days spent in a conference bubble, it is easy to get carried away and expect significant progress, when the outside world is less engaged with the topics discussed.

But it was great to be back and feel the energy of members of the nursing profession united in voice on the issues that matter to it most; a powerful force indeed. Until next year…

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