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An independent review will be commissioned into the Royal College of Nursing’s 2020 presidential election and the events that led to its break down, the new chair of RCN Council has pledged.
The council would also adhere to calls for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), said Dave Dawes in his first live address since being elected after a whirlwind few weeks for the college.
“I think the reason so many members feel so angry about this is it just goes against the grain of what we feel is just”
Mr Dawes used social media on Friday to introduce himself to members and update them on what had been agreed during a “very long and difficult” meeting of council earlier that day.
The meeting had been called to discuss the next steps for the presidential election, following the announcement on Wednesday that the process would be halted and started afresh.
It came after the remaining two candidates for the role of president decided to withdraw from the race in the wake of the controversial disqualification of two other contenders.
The college has been engulfed in a storm since its decision in the middle of August to disqualify current president Professor Anne Marie Rafferty and mental health nurse Stuart McKenzie.
The RCN returning officer had ruled that the pair had broken election rules by using RCN social media pages to promote their campaigns, because they were deemed to be official RCN resources.
Under the college’s election rules, the two candidates were not able to appeal the decision.
The situation led to the resignation of former chair of council, Dee Sissons, while deputy chair of council Richard Jones also stepped down, but for health reasons.
Meanwhile, a petition calling on the RCN to hold an EGM over the matter has been submitted to the college after gaining the 1,000 required signatures from members.
In his video message, Mr Dawes said council members “unanimously believe that is important that a general meeting happens”.
He said discussions would first be held with the EGM petitioners to explore their concerns and to try and find solutions.
If it was determined that an EGM was still necessary after the talks, council would call a meeting “as soon as possible” and work with the petitioners to “shape the agenda”, added Mr Dawes.
Mr Dawes said council would also meet calls for an independent review to be carried out into the presidential election process this year.
However, he added that council still needed to consider “the right approach and the format and the timing of that review”.
In terms of the presidential election itself and restarting the process, he stated that it should be down to the RCN governance committee to seek legal advice and present options back to council.
But he said council was “very clear” any disqualifications would not be carried forward into a future election, meaning Professor Rafferty and Mr Mckenzie would be able to stand again if desired.
The other two candidates in the election were current RCN deputy president, Yvonne Coghill, and Professor Julie Green, a professor of district nursing.
It was also agreed by council at the meeting that other elections, including the one for deputy president, should progress as normal.
However, it was highlighted that the RCN would be issuing “much more detailed clarification on social media and RCN resources”.
“I will do everything in my power to give you the honesty, the openness, the transparency, the information you need”
Speaking in a personal capacity, Mr Dawes expressed sympathy towards those who were angered by the disqualifications.
He spoke publicly for the first time about a legal battle he had himself with the college in 2008, after he was dropped from his post as RCN Council member for the North West.
He explained how changes in work circumstances had left him “broke” one month, meaning his direct debit for his RCN membership had bounced back without him realising.
Without prior warning, Mr Dawes received a phone call to say he would be removed from council and would have no right to appeal.
“I can still remember the feeling of shock and anger that [I] felt,” said Mr Dawes in his video message.
“I think one of the things of being an RCN steward is you really get angry about injustice… and also you are really, really good at fighting – we teach stewards well.
“So, I became the first RCN member to ever take the RCN to the Trade Union Certification Officer,” he said, though noted that, while he was given a “fair hearing”, he was not reinstated.
When he returned to a role on council seven years later, he wanted to prevent other people going through what he did, and subsequently helped to secure changes to the membership disciplinary policy.
While stressing that he had seen no evidence in the recent presidential election case to be able to pass judgement, he said the situation “doesn’t feel right” on a personal level.
“I’m sure you can imagine what I felt personally when I heard that people who had been disqualified for election had been disqualified because of a technical rules infringement with no hearing and no right or appeal,” he said.
He added: “I think the reason so many members feel so angry about this is it just goes against the grain of what we feel is just and what we feel is fair and the kind of justice we fight for day in and day out for our members.”
Mr Dawes said, in order to steer the RCN through the present crisis and achieve its ambitions of safe staffing and fair pay, there needed to be “trust, openness and honesty” between leaders and members.
“If we can work together in an open, trusting and honest way, and we can rebuild that, then we can do this, and if we can’t the RCN will fail,” he added. “To me it’s as simple as that.
“I trust you, the members. I will do everything in my power to give you the honesty, the openness, the transparency, the information you need to help you decide what directions we take,” he said.
The RCN members behind the EGM petition are meeting tonight to discuss the proposals.