Royal College of Nursing congress to be online only due to ‘serious allegations of sexual harassment

Posted: 2nd September 2021

The Royal College of Nursing has cancelled its annual conference as a face-to-face event because of “serious allegations of sexual harassment” and after taking independent legal advice.

Instead, the event this year will take place as a “fully virtual event”, the college said in a statement issued on Friday evening.

RCN Congress was due to take place as a physical event in Liverpool from 18-20 September, with sessions also streamed online.

But the statement said that, in light of serious allegations of sexual harassment, the RCN’s council had met and decided the best way to safeguard members was to make the meeting a fully virtual event.

It added that, as a “matter of urgency”, the RCN was undertaking a full review of all safeguarding policies and procedures as part of a “cultural change”.

“We take a zero tolerance approach to such allegations at all times,” said the statement, though the RCN gave no further details of the incidents mentioned.

“This decision is only one part of the RCN’s response and the organisation is committed to proactively addressing concerns wherever they arise,” it said.

Further logistical details for those who had booked to attend in person will be made available early next week, said the college in its statement announcing the last minute change to the nature of the event.

Chair of RCN Council, Carol Popplestone, said: “We have acted fast and took a unanimous decision that protects all attendees.

“We know that many members planning to attend were looking forward to seeing each other in person for the first time in two years.

“But this decision was made with members’ safety at the top of our minds. That is what we are here to safeguard at all costs,” she said

She added: “I am absolutely determined that Congress will still be its usual fascinating mix of debates, events and speeches. Getting together virtually won’t stand in the way of that.”

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the RCN did not go ahead with congress during 2020. It was last held in 2019 in Liverpool.

The current situation regarding congress is the second internal crisis to have affected the college this year.

Dave Dawes stepped down from the role of chair of the RCN’s governing council in July while an investigation looked into a “number of complaints” about his conduct.

Sources at the college told Nursing Times that Mr Dawes was alleged to have made “derogatory and inflammatory remarks” in relation to colleagues.

The move followed the resignation of RCN council member Dr Joan Myers who urged council to make “sweeping changes” and flagged concerns about diversity.

Mr Dawes himself was appointed in September 2020 following the resignation of Dee Sissons as RCN chair over alleged mishandling of the college’s presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the issue of sexual harassment for those in the nursing profession was explored by Nursing Times earlier this year, with findings published in June.

Three in every five nurses have been sexually harassed at work, with many having been made to believe that enduring such behaviour is “just part of the job”, revealed a survey by Nursing Times and the union Unison.

The concerning results showed that, of more than 2,000 nursing staff and students who took part in the poll, 60% said they had experienced sexual harassment at work, while 39% had witnessed a colleague being harassed.

However, significantly, only 27% of respondents who had been sexually harassed had reported it to their employer.

One nurse in the NHS acute sector said harassment at work was something they had “learned to accept”, while another hospital nurse said: “Alongside bullying, sexual harassment seems to be inbuilt in nursing.”

Source: RCN Congress to be online only due to ‘serious allegations of sexual harassment’ | Nursing Times (August 2021)

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