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One of the candidates controversially disqualified from the race to become the next Royal College of Nursing president has told Nursing Times he is considering legal action.
Stuart McKenzie (pictured above) said he believed the reasons he was given by the college for his exclusion from the election were based on a “flawed” and “unfair” interpretation of the rules.
“It’s incumbent upon us now to try and resolve this”
Mr McKenzie, who has been an RCN member for more than 20 years and has held several high-profile positions including chair of congress, said he had had sought legal advice and was considering “how best to proceed”.
One of the options was to seek a judicial review, although he said he hoped it would not come to that.
If he did go down this route, Mr McKenzie said he may look for support financially through crowdfunding, noting how the process to date had drained his finances.
He highlighted that the disqualification had meant his conduct had been brought into question, which he said “goes to the heart of who I am as a nurse”.
“I’m lucky because I’ve got an excellent employer who knows who I am and what I am about, but it’s a mark on your credibility and professionalism,” hes said.
“I never expected the college that I’ve put 20 years’ worth of work into, to hurt me that way,” he added.
Mr McKenzie was of one of two candidates alongside current president Professor Anne Marie Rafferty to be removed from the ballot earlier this month for alleged rule violations. The RCN has paused the election process.
However, the situation led to the chair of council, Dee Sissons, resigning. The vice chair of council, Richard Jones, also stepped down but due to health reasons.
The returning officer, who is appointed by RCN council to run the election, made the decision to disqualify the candidates after receiving complaints that they had used “RCN resources” to promote their campaigns.
Examples given of the resources in question included RCN branch and forum Facebook pages, the RCN student Facebook page, the RCN student ambassador Facebook page and the RCN newly qualified nurse Facebook page.
More news on the RCN president election
However, Mr McKenzie contested the view that these groups were the property of the college as an organisation, because they were run directly by members for members.
With a pandemic underway and being based in the West of Scotland, Mr McKenzie asked: “How was I supposed to reach a major conurbation and speak to people?”
He said he also had evidence that all four candidates had committed similar breaches. “It baffles me that we would allow such flawed interpretation to impede the election,” he added.
Under the rules, the candidates are not able to appeal the disqualification. But Mr McKenzie claimed that the election had become a “complete sham” and should not go ahead in its current form.
Since revealing himself as being one of the disqualified candidates via social media, Mr McKenzie said he had been “buoyed” by the support he had received.
“People who I don’t know, people who I’ve known for over 20 years, people who have been mentors to me in the college and who inspired me, [have been] reaching out to me and saying we support you,” he noted.
Mr McKenzie told Nursing Times he wanted to use his experience from the election debacle to help reform the power structures of the RCN and place control “back into the hands of members”.
He is part of a group of members that has launched a petition calling for an emergency general meeting (EGM) to agree a full independent review of the RCN’s management and leadership.
It comes less than two years since the last EGM when members of the RCN council were forced to collectively stand down following backlash over the handling of the 2018 NHS pay deal.
An independent review of the RCN’s governance was subsequently carried out and published this year. It highlighted the need for the RCN to become more “member led”.
However, Mr McKenzie said recent events showed the review was “not worth the paper it was written on”, adding: “The ink is not even dry on it and here we are.”
“It’s incumbent upon us now to try and resolve this,” he said. “If people truly have the best interest of the membership and nursing at the heart of these decisions then we have to fix this once and for all.
“We cannot have slept walked our way through a review of governance… and then in the first notable elections thereafter we are all talking about governance again.”
He also criticised what he described as a “Westminster/London-centric management of the college”, and called for more devolved decision-making autonomy for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
He stressed that he was fully supportive of the RCN’s council and pledged to stand firmly behind current president Professor Rafferty.
“The RCN has a legal responsibility to ensure that all the candidates are able to campaign equally and fairly”
“I’m absolutely clear that my position is that we rally behind our current president and we protect her integrity and her position, and we demand that her expertise in her area of practice and research is thoroughly utilised for the benefit of the college, rather than being excluded through a flawed election campaigning process,” he said.
Last night, Professor Rafferty chaired an emergency council meeting to discuss the next steps for electing a new chair and vice chair of council.
In an update sent to members issued today, Professor Rafferty confirmed that chair and vice chair elections would be going ahead imminently, and the outcome would be announced next week.
“I want to also offer all members my personal assurances that as your president, I am determined to help steer the college through this period of uncertainty,” she wrote.
The college has yet to agree a way forward in terms of the presidential election.
An RCN spokesperson said: “The election of the president is the most important in our trade union structure, governed by internal processes under the trade union legislation.
“The RCN has a legal responsibility to ensure that all the candidates are able to campaign equally and fairly,” they said.
“Regretfully, complaints were raised in regards to two candidates and evidence was provided that confirmed these rules were breached.
“The returning officer sought guidance from the independent scrutineer before taking any decision to disqualify,” they added.
“The priority now is to resume an election process in which members can have confidence, and which is carried out in accordance with our statutory election rules.”