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Tackling racism in the RCN still ‘a work in progress’ says college president

Tackling racism in the RCN still ‘a work in progress’ says college president

Tackling issues such as racism within the Royal College of Nursing, as well as in the nursing workforce, is still ‘a work in progress’ according to the organisation’s president.

Speaking exclusively with Nursing in Practice, RCN president Sheilabye Sobrany said that there is ‘still a long way to go’ change the culture of racism and bullying highlighted by the Carr report, although steps are being taken to bring about change.

‘The Carr review highlighted inequalities in a way that surprised me,’ said Ms Sobrany, ‘but since I’ve got here we’ve already started work, and there’s a lot of work being done in terms of improving the culture within the organisation.

Ms Sobrany was elected as the RCN’s president in December 2022 and became president in January this year after running on a campaign pledging to improve pay for nurses and tackling racism, bullying, and the harassment of healthcare workers.

Implementing her plans will take time, she said. ‘Although the Carr review part of my campaign moving forward, this is a work in progress, there is no overnight solution. This is something that happens slowly. So that means we’re going to be working with members right across the county at every stage.’

So far the college has committed to producing a five-year plan to tackle racism, says Ms Sobrany, but no details have yet been published.

Published in October 2022, the Carr report revealed a culture of sexism, racism, and distrust within the college, leading to general secretary Pat Cullen to call for an ‘overhaul’ of the organisation.

Bruce Carr QC, the report’s author, wrote that it was ‘striking’ that of the five resignations from the RCN’s executive council in the three years prior to the report four were women and three were from BME backgrounds.

Mr Carr suggested that the senior levels of the RCN was ‘riddled with division, dysfunction and distrust’ and was ‘in a state of crisis as it goes blindly from one catastrophe to another without any respite in sight’.

Ms Sobrany told Nursing in Practice that there remained ‘a lot of work to be done moving forward’ in order to come to terms with and tackle the findings of the report.

‘I’ve only been here since the beginning of January so it’s not a lot of time,’ she says, ‘but there were some changes in the college that I could see needed addressing. It was that, and the findings of the Carr review, which brought me to the point of taking action.

‘I’ve been engaging with members of the executive team and our general secretary Pat Cullen, who is obviously very busy with strike action at the moment,’ said Ms Sobrany.

However, despite more focus on the issue of pay she insisted that ‘focus hasn’t been taken of action to address equality, diversity and inclusion and to bring this into the culture.

‘In terms of addressing racism, we are working together collaboratively with our staff and our members to bring about some transformational changes. There’s a lot to do but we are building on the stepping stones of the Carr review to do that for our members. Because we have a responsibility to address this issue.’

Following the Carr report, members passed a vote of no confidence in the council and called for the members to resign. However, the vote was not binding and a number of members of council have not yet stepped down from their positions.

Ms Sobrany, who sits on the council as president, told Nursing in Practice that ‘one of the fantastic things we have been able to do is getting some new members of council.

‘We’ve got some fresh thinking on there; positive mindsets better working together. So that helps to improve the culture and the solidarity [of the college]. I’ve not seen any kinds of negative behaviours as such, but I’m quite optimistic that with my influence in there that they will actually consider our members needs more.’



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