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Two candidates disqualified from the Royal College of Nursing’s presidential elections were found to have broken rules around the way in which they promoted their campaign, the union has confirmed.
The RCN has revealed that the pair who were ousted from the election process were found to have used the union’s own online and social media forums to advertise their campaign – a move that is in breach of its election rules.
“The complainants provided unequivocal documentary evidence that both had sought access to RCN branch and forum Facebook pages”
In a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document, published today, the RCN said as per its policy and process document for its elections, “candidates cannot use RCN resources to promote their campaigns”.
The union explained that, despite this, it had received “numerous complaints” that sparked concern that nominees were in fact “utilising RCN resources” as part of their campaigns.
“The complainants provided unequivocal documentary evidence that both had sought access to RCN branch and forum Facebook pages, the RCN student Facebook page, the RCN Student Ambassador Facebook page and the RCN NQN Facebook page,” the FAQ document said.
“The candidates did gain access to certain branches and were able to promote their campaigns at virtual branch meetings,” it said.
As stated in its policy and processes document, the RCN flagged that “candidates can advise members they are standing for election at RCN events, but they cannot speak from that platform to promote their campaign”.
As a result of the rules break, under its policy document, the returning officer was “to apply the only sanction in relation to breaches of the rules”, which was disqualification.
The college’s policy document stated that “using RCN resources may lead to disqualification from the election”.
The RCN is still yet to name those disqualified and said it was “legally required to respect and maintain the confidentiality of the individuals concerned”.
“We are also mindful that we would not want to cause any personal or professional distress to those candidates,” the union added.
The clarification comes after news of the complaints and pausing of the election were first shared on Twitter last week.
Members have since raised concerns over a lack of transparency on how the decision to disqualify two candidates had been made.
Nursing Times understands that an emergency council meeting was held last night to discuss the concerns of RCN members surrounding the issue.
But, ahead of the meeting, further claims emerged on Wednesday afternoon that the RCN’s council was preparing to hold a vote of no confidence in the near future over alleged election mishandling.
The RCN itself has so far declined to officially comment, despite requests from Nursing Times to confirm or deny the growing rumours about the vote.
It comes less than two years after RCN members passed a vote of no confidence in the union’s council following backlash over the way the 2018 NHS pay deal was communicated to members.
Further information provided by the college today about the handling of the presidential elections also highlighted that the returning officer had “sought guidance” from the independent scrutineer UK Engage.
The RCN clarified that “only the returning officer in conjunction with the independent scrutineer can make relevant decisions in respect of the election”.
“Although RCN council makes the rules that govern elections, it is not responsible for ensuring compliance with those rules or any decision making during the election process,” the FAQ document said, adding that the “council must remain neutral in the election process”.
The RCN stated that there was “no appeal process against disqualification”. But it added that if “disqualified candidates believe they have been unreasonably excluded from standing, they can apply to the trade union certification officer for a determination of that complaint”.
“We are committed to transparency and operating within legal requirements to ensure the election is conducted fairly”
The college said this information was only reaching members now because of the legal guidance and advice that had to be sought. It said this had “caused a delay to the speed at which we could share information with members”.
“We are committed to transparency and operating within legal requirements to ensure the presidential election is conducted fairly for all candidates,” the RCN added.
The fact the situation had first been announced a week ago on Twitter had sparked backlash from members, who were angered the news had been delivered in the public domain and not communicated to them directly first.
An email believed to have been sent by the RCN was also then posted by members on the social media site on Friday.
A postal ballot for the election was set to open on 1 September and successful candidates were due to be announced on 1 October, but the RCN has said a new timeline will be made.
In the FAQ’s document, the RCN added: “Our priority is to resume an election process in which members can have confidence, and which is carried out in accordance with our statutory election rules.
“The legal advice received is to resume the election as soon as possible. This will be done as a matter of urgency.”
When asked by Nursing Times for a comment on the current situation, an RCN spokesperson said: “Our priority is to keep our members informed of next steps around the election, and we have published a document that does that.”