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An independent review of the way the Royal College of Nursing is governed has today recommended that the college needs to improve its culture, accountability and member engagement.
Such changes were “critical” for RCN members to have improved ownership of the way the college was run, and to create a more trusted, open decision-making way of doing things.
The inquiry was launched earlier this year and had been called for by its members in the wake of mistakes being made by the college in its understanding and communication of the 2018 NHS pay deal.
“The report identified three major themes: being member-led, accountability and culture”
The RCN faced a high-profile backlash after it emerged that its then leaders had misrepresented parts of the offer in communications with members.
The subsequent fall-out led to senior resignations, including its previous chief executive and general secretary, Janet Davies, and also saw a vote of no confidence in the college’s leadership as a whole.
An emergency resolution calling for the independent review, which was put forward by member Graham Revie, was passed at the 2019 RCN Congress.
Undertaken by the Centre for Public Scrutiny (CfPS), the review sought views from members at national and regional level, as well as those holding council, committee or other governance roles.
As part of the report, the CfPS has produced a series of findings and recommendations that it believe will “help the RCN to continue to further improve and develop its governance”.
It said it felt the “most impact on the RCN’s governance” would come from “having a shared vision and goals, a change in culture and behaviours and clarity of accountability”.
“These are critical to supporting wider ownership of governance, empowerment of others and creating more trusted, open decision-making,” the report said.
In response to the report, the chair of RCN Council has confirmed that all the recommendations have been “accepted in principle”.
The review heard from 2,844 members via a survey and the report authors observed informal conversations which took place at RCN council, committee and board meetings.
The report highlighted seven areas, in particular, where “the strengths of the RCN could be developed further” (see box below).
- Shared vision and goals
- Culture and behaviours
- Being ‘member-led’ and member participation
- Governance as an enabler
- Maximising the existing structure
- Improving meeting management
- Developing people
Under specific recommendations for the culture and behaviours of the organisation, the review suggested a “development programme” should be implemented to “create the space and time needed to build positive relationships between members and executive”.
In addition, the report recommended that the college should “explore how greater parity and shared understanding can be achieved across the organisation to ensure that all aspects of the organisation’s roles are fully valued”.
It also discussed the RCN being ‘member-led’ and advised the council to lead work on gaining a “consensus view” of what this means, “including member and officer expectations of each other”, and then put it into practical guidance.
In addition, it stated that the college should “prioritise the delivery of member engagement and participation strategy with a focus to ensure a clear link to decision-making”.
It said the RCN council should “empower accountable executive leads, chairs, vice chairs and committee members to run their committees and branches”, and create “working agreements for members and executives on each committee”.
Meanwhile, the report recommended that the RCN should “promote and support increased governance representation and participation of women, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) and disabled members and relaunch a leadership and governance training and development package”.
The review stressed that change would only happen with “with strong and visible leadership and an organisational (Council, member and executive) commitment to improve”, and that if recommendations were fully adopted, this would not be a quick task.
But, if the recommendations were both accepted and implemented, the CfPS, said it believed it would “create an operational governance framework model”, which would help to provide greater clarity, responsiveness, trust and empowerment.
The findings of the report were due to be discussed with members this week at the RCN’s annual congress, but the event was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Therefore, the RCN has said it would arrange future opportunities for members to discuss the review’s findings via briefings and digital question and answer sessions, starting in July.
Responding to the report, Dee Sissons, chair of the RCN council, said: “The review makes an important and independent contribution to the debate on how the RCN will continuously strive to improve the way it works.
“Our governance structures, people and processes are only correct if they serve members effectively and give them confidence in the organisation.”
Ms Sisson tried to reassure RCN members by stating that, as their council, it was “committed to this work”.
“The report identified three major themes: being member-led and member participation, accountability and culture,” she added.
This, she said, meant the report would help the council to “increase our accountability” to RCN members, “help build trust between members” and “ensure our way of working befits the nursing profession and an organisation with a proud history”.
“We believe the report meets the specification set out by members in the original resolution and council have accepted all the recommendations in principle,” said Ms Sissons.
The RCN council chair reiterated that it would report back to members on the next stages in July when it would “outline the future direction of this work”.
The decision to hold a governance review followed a separate independent investigation by the Electoral Reform Service in 2018.
It concluded that RCN leaders were not fully informed about the pay deal and issued “inaccurate” information about the offer to members.