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RCN Council elections: Turnout 'still low' despite increase

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) membership elected 13 new Council members today, but turnout figures have sparked concerns around engagement among the College's membership. 

Council members were elected to represent Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and nine regions of England, alongside one member to represent nursing support workers, and will provide strategic leadership and direction for the College. 

Turnout - which averaged at 7% across contested seats - increased in every constituency compared to the last three Council elections, according to RCN Governance.

But Professor Alison Leary, the chair of healthcare and workforce modelling at London South Bank University, told Nursing in Practice that low turnout is a 'persistent issue'. 

Official data show that of the 253,483 ballots distributed to RCN members, 17,983 were returned. The West Midlands had the lowest turnout percentage at 5.9%, while Northern Ireland topped the table at 11.2%. 

Table: Electoral Reform Services data on the number of ballot papers distributed and returned at each contested seat in the RCN's most recent Council election.
Seat Ballots distributed  Ballots returned  Turnout
London 52,141 3,738 7%
Northern 16,033 1,109 6.9%
Northern Ireland 12,642 1,422 11.2%
Scotland 34,418 2,150 6.2%
South East 51,424 4,142 8.1%
Wales 21,707 1,412 6.5%
West Midlands 35,245 2,096 5.9%
Yorkshire 29,873 1,914 6.4%
Total 253,483 17,983 7% 

'The RCN is meant to be a member-led organisation and so I think the reasons are probably complex but need some attention,' said Professor Leary. 

However, she stressed that while the RCN needs to 'think carefully about member engagement', the figures may be a reflection of nursing engagement 'more generally'.

'If nurses don't participate in activities like elections they don't have a say in their own future,' she explained. 'This is not all on the RCN - all of us need to take some responsibility for steering the future of nursing to safer waters.'

Dann Gooding, a newly qualified nurse and board member at the RCN West Midlands region, said turnout 'is increasing election on election but it is still low'. 

He questioned whether enough RCN members know what membership allows them to do and how to fully engage with it, telling Nursing in Practice: 'I worry that those paying their subscriptions just in case something goes wrong do not know about the forums, the education and the well being that the membership offers.

'Recently, the RCN as an organisation has seen more fight from Dame Donna's conversations with government officials, to its social media presence and its members lobbying. These are positive steps as it shows nurses that the RCN is there for them. I believe the RCN needs to continue to advertise to members what their membership includes in order to help nurses make the most of it.' 

A RCN spokesperson said the College 'makes every effort to encourage members to vote in the Council elections'.

They continued: 'This year we were pleased to see an increase in turnout across every constituency compared with the last three Council Elections.  Whilst these improvements in turnout are welcome, the College would be delighted to see more members engaging with, and voting in, RCN elections.

'The College has recently carried out a significant piece of work looking more deeply at how members engage with the College and vice versa, and from 2020 will begin initiating a number of changes that are hoped will see more members playing their part in future RCN elections.

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