The first day of debates got underway and we debated recruitment and retention as well as redeployment.

We voted to deplore the UK government’s handling of the nursing workforce, and speakers from all disciplines and all over the UK shared their experiences. The situation facing nurses and the nursing profession is pretty grim at the moment and the number of registered nurses is falling. We need a government that takes the provision of healthcare seriously.

Redeployment is an issue that in some ways overlaps. Discussion included the issue of nurses being transferred between wards to cover staffing shortages, even though they may not have clinical experience in the new ward. Can nurses decline to move where they feel they are not appropriately skilled? Or is it worse to refuse to help out?

After coffee, we heard a matter for discussion on our #ScrapTheCap campaign from last year and the subsequent pay offer from the UK government. I was pleased to have been asked to second the resolution that led to this action in May 2017. I suspect the current government have been quite happy to see arguments within trades unions, feeling it perhaps strengthens their position or deflects attention. An open and democratic union needs to have the freedom to debate these kinds of issues, but members need to be mindful of how they are perceived in comments they make in public.

After lunch, Council presented it’s report to Congress on their activity since last year’s event. Sadly the report contained a few mistakes, not least a completely incorrect report on the places of safety debate. Thankfully the correct report is being printed today for distribution tomorrow, and available on the website. The place of safety debate was extremely contentious, particularly on Twitter; some people asserted that the RCN had voted to “ban” people with mental health problems from emergency departments. This is emphatically not the case. Arguments online have so far failed to resolve this, and as a professional body and a Forum we have learned a lot about how to communicate such issues internally and outwardly. One thing for certain is that abusive comments directed to RCN members in the past twelve months is completely unacceptable.

Item 3 on the agenda was a matter for discussion on NHS Trusts creating limited companies for services, allowing them to effectively pay support staff lower wages. This discussion was, after a process, changed to a resolution, so that Congress voted to condemn such behaviours.

Fourth on the agenda (not including the pay discussion, which was an emergency agenda item) was a resolution to demand that immigrant healthcare staff should have the health surcharge cancelled for themselves and their families. This resolution was passed by a large majority, though it’s important to respect differing views from colleagues. Personally, I feel government policies that penalise people who have come to care for our sick is punitive, tokenistic and ultimately xenophobic.

Two more matters were delivered; one a resolution to campaign for more public toilets with broad access to be provided (which was passed following some really engaging statements), and a matter for discussion on hydration for nurses.

Business was then closed for the day and delegates are now off to meet regional colleagues at a number of dinner events across the city.

More tomorrow – we’re just getting started!

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