At a meeting yesterday members of RCN Council sanctioned a formal assessment of the pros and cons of re-joining the International Council of Nurses, a global federation of more than 130 national nursing association.
“Council this week agreed a way forward and the work that will inform any future decision”
The controversial decision to leave the ICN was made by RCN members at the union’s congress in 2013 because of concerns about high membership fees.
However, there has since been a campaign to get the college to return amid fears UK nurses will be left out of key global discussions on nursing and midwifery.
The issue has become all the more pressing given the fact the ICN is set to play a prominent role in the World Health Organisation’s year of the nurse and midwife in 2020.
The topic of ICN membership was hotly debated at RCN congress in Liverpool in May this year with some nurses who supported the decision to leave the ICN revealing they would be willing to reconsider.
Earlier this month campaigners sent an open letter to RCN leaders saying the congress debate gave the college a “clear mandate” to start talking to the ICN about potential terms for re-joining.
A report by the RCN’s international committee, which has been reviewing the decision to leave the ICN, set out key considerations for the college in deciding whether or not to return.
This included looking at whether the initial reasons for leaving the organisation still stood and gathering evidence from other nursing organisations on the benefits of membership and any concerns.
There was a need for “clarity on the perceived and actual benefits of re-joining the ICN and whether the ICN’s governance and priorities align with the RCN”, said the report.
It was also important to determine exactly what the RCN’s role and contribution would be within ICN, the report stated.
The committee went on to set out its newly devised criteria for assessing the benefits and impact of working with any international alliance and network.
It recommended RCN staff be given the go-ahead to gather information and apply the criteria to membership of ICN.
This would include a risk assessment exercise including looking at fees and financial sustainability and any potential risks to the RCN’s reputation and members’ interests.
It would also involve a cost-benefit analysis that would mean scoring various factors such as the financial impact of joining, including annual membership fees, travel costs and staff time.
“I cannot overstate the importance of nursing connecting with the global community”
Other factors to be considered and rated would include benefits such as networking and access to information, effectiveness of the ICN and evidence of its impact on “positive outcomes for the nursing profession”, and whether membership was “strategically beneficial” to the RCN.
Following the meeting, a spokesman for the RCN said: “Council this week agreed a way forward and the work that will inform any future decision.”
Leading nurses, including three of the UK’s chief nursing officers, have publicly expressed their support for the RCN to re-join.
Ahead of yesterday’s debate Wales’s CNO Jean White said she wanted to see the UK back in the ICN.
“There are so many challenges in the world and we should be there sharing and learning as part of the global nursing and midwifery community,” she posted on Twitter.
England’s CNO Ruth May responded on Twitter by saying she felt the same way.
CNO for Northern Ireland Charlotte McArdle also hoped RCN Council would see the benefits of returning.
“I cannot overstate the importance of nursing connecting with the global community,” she tweeted.
Meanwhile Crystal Oldman, chief executive of the Queen’s Nursing Institute, said she felt it was “really important” that the UK was a member of the ICN.
Howard Catton, chief executive of the ICN, has previously told Nursing Times he would personally “love” for the college to return to the ICN but it must be a decision for members.
He said the world was now a different place to the one it was when the RCN voted to leave.