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Reporting from the RCN Congress 2007

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser for the RCN

Obviously, with a brand new general secretary in place the week started with a level of intrigue and interest. Most RCN members who attended Congress had not met Peter Carter and so were curious about his leadership style, thoughts and proposed future actions. It has to be said that for the main part Congress delegates were impressed with how the brand new RCN general secretary presented himself and, as always, the proof is in the pudding and an enthusiastic standing ovation was the outcome of his inaugural speech.

The mood was tough and angry, in terms of the current state of the NHS and the proposed staged minimal pay rise granted by Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown. Attention was not only paid to the rather mean  nurses pay rise, but also other factors, such as newly qualified nurses being unable to gain employment,  slashed education budgets and the number of lost nursing posts. In the following months RCN action will focus on these issues and solutions will be explored  with nurses, ministers, civil servants and managers.

While 2006 was the year of NHS deficits it was abundantly apparent that little progress was achieved in terms of implementing the white paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say.(1) We need to look forward to a better time, healthcare-wise, and seek ways of ensuring that the white paper will happen, bringing health benefits to all. Many issues relevant to progress being achieved on this health reform were discussed and debated at Congress. A number of the resolutions focused on workforce planning, the move of hospital-based services to the community, the problems of excessive gambling, community-based education and training and, of course, the matter of nurses' pay.

RCN Congress is the one event in the year which encourages nurses from every part of the UK, and every domain of nursing, to speak about their work experiences and share with others what action they believe should be taken. A significant number of Congress delegates are regulars to this event and well known to all of us who work for the RCN, and who, therefore have to take heed of what the members tell us.

Following Congress an action plan is agreed that aims to take forward the mood and views of the members, so that the mantra "the RCN is a membership-led organisation" is believed to be genuine, rather than hot and airy rhetoric. If at any time you can find the time and the inclination to attend an RCN Congress, I assure you that while you might find the occasion somewhat bizarre at times, you will certainly not be bored, and it is likely that you will feel overwhelmed at hearing the stories of other nurses' lives.

General practitioners have recently been told by health ministers that they cannot expect a pay rise during 2007. It may be that as a result of GPs receiving a huge amount of new cash during 2006 such a decision might be considered to be an appropriate one. However, we know very well at the RCN that if GPs fail to receive a pay rise, so too will GP-employed nurses. As this article goes to print the outcome of this announcement is still unknown, but as time goes by I can safely anticipate that with absolute justification the RCN will be contacted by many a discontented practice nurse. General practice has always operated according to a self-contained business model, and current health reform further encourages such practice, rather than diminishes it.

Enjoy the summertime.


  1. Department of Health. Our health, our care, our say. London: DH; 2006.