Royal College of Nursing

Coordinates: 51°30′58″N 0°08′45″W / 51.516134°N 0.145786°W / 51.516134; -0.145786
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Royal College of Nursing
PredecessorCollege of Nursing Ltd
Founded27 March 1916; 107 years ago (1916-03-27)
Headquarters20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN[1]
  • United Kingdom
General Secretary
Pat Cullen
Key people
Dame Sarah Swift
Sir Arthur Stanley
PublicationNursing Standard Edit this at Wikidata
Coat of arms

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is a registered trade union[2] in the United Kingdom for those in the profession of nursing. It was founded in 1916, receiving its royal charter in 1928. Queen Elizabeth II was the patron until her death in 2022. The majority of members are registered nurses; however student nurses and healthcare assistants are also members. There is also a category of membership, at a reduced cost, for retired people.

The RCN describes its mission as representing nurses and nursing, promoting excellence in practice and shaping health policies.[3] It has a network of stewards, safety representatives and union learning representatives as well as advice services for members. Services include a main library in London, and regional libraries. The RCN Institute provides courses for nurses.


The College of Nursing Ltd was founded on 27 March 1916, with 34 members, as a professional organisation for trained nurses.[4] On a proposal from Dame Sarah Swift and Sir Arthur Stanley, part of its objective was to set up a register of nurses. It was explicitly not to be a trade union. It attempted amalgamation with the Royal British Nurses' Association, but this was frustrated, largely by the efforts of Ethel Gordon Fenwick. In March 1917 the college had 2,553 members and, by 1919, 13,047, a great deal more than the RBNA. It had most of the nursing places on the General Nursing Council when it was first established, and by 1925 it had about 24,000 members. Membership was restricted to registered general nurses, excluding male nurses and those on the mental, mental subnormality, fever and children's registers.[5][verification needed]

A royal charter was granted in 1928.The organisation became the College of Nursing[6] and Frances Goodall its Assistant General Secretary. The college pushed for registered nurses to be given precedence, and to be in charge. In 1935 Frances Goodall became General Secretary[7] and the Trades Union Congress promoted a Parliamentary bill to secure a 48-hour working week for all hospital employees. The college opposed this and was accused by the TUC of being "an organisation of voluntary snobs".[8] In 1939 the college's name was changed to “the Royal College of Nursing”. The Ministry of Health guaranteed a salary of £40 to nursing students in training in 1941, about double what voluntary hospitals were paying before the war. The Royal College said that this was too high.[9]

Since 1977 the RCN has been registered as a trade union.[10]

21st century[edit]

In 2018, after a pay agreement was not clearly explained to the membership, the Chief Executive and General Secretary Janet Davies resigned and Dame Donna Kinnair was appointed in an acting capacity. She was confirmed in the role in April 2019.[11] A motion of no confidence in the RCN Council was called shortly afterwards and passed in September 2018 with 78% of votes, but on a turnout when only 3.7% of the membership voted. As well as the Chief Executive and General Secretary, the Director of Member Relations had previously resigned.[12][13] Twelve of the 17 council members resigned, 10 of them standing for re-election in the subsequent election.[14]

In 2019, the RCN's first strike — limited to Northern Ireland, over staffing and pay issues—took place.[15]

In May 2019, the Royal College of Nursing voted to back the “decriminalisation” of prostitution (prostitution itself not in fact being a criminal offence.[16][17]

In April 2021, Pat Cullen started acting as General Secretary & Chief Executive, and was appointed as interim General Secretary & Chief Executive in July 2021.[18]

In August 2021, the RCN cancelled its annual meeting of members in Liverpool following allegations of sexual harassment and said the 2021 Congress would now be held virtually in order to safeguard those attending.[19]

In 2022, the RCN held a strike ballot over pay, held separately across NHS trusts and boards. Its members went on strike as part of the 2022–2023 National Health Service strikes.[20][21] The RCN commented that from 2010 (the start of the government's austerity programme) to 2022, pay for nurses had fallen by 20%.[22] The government offered a 5% pay rise to most Agenda for Change classes;[20] the RCN demanded a pay rise of retail price index inflation plus five percent.[22] Around 60 percent of NHS workplaces in England reached the turnout necessary to legally strike. Outside of Scotland—where the government began negotiations over its 7.5 percent offer—strikes took place on 15 December and 20 December 2022.[21][23] In England, further strikes took place from 18–19 January 2023.[24] In England and Wales, the next strikes are set to occur from 6–7 February 2023.[23]


RCN HQ, Cavendish Square London
Cecilia Anim opening the RCN's West Midlands office in 2016

The headquarters are at 20 Cavendish Square, London, a Grade II listed building[25]

RCN libraries[edit]

RCN Library and Archives at the Senate House History Day, 2019

The RCN Library claims to be Europe's largest nursing-specific collection.[26]

The RCN's Library in London, which is now known as the UK Library, was founded in 1921, and its contents include 60,000 volumes, 500 videos and 400 current periodicals on nursing and related subjects. The catalogue, with information on over 600m records, is now online.[27]

Due to its historical holdings, the Library is a member of The London Museums of Health & Medicine group.[28] Special collections include the Historical Collection and the RCN Steinberg Collection of Nursing Research, the latter of which comprises over 1,000 nursing theses and dissertations. Set up in 1974, the RCN Steinberg Collection of Nursing Research contains a selection of influential nursing theses and dissertations from the early 1950s to the present day.[29]


Fellowships are selectively awarded by the RCN in recognition of exceptional contributions to nursing.[30] Honorary fellowships are granted by the RCN Council to those who are unable to become an RCN member, either because they are from overseas or because they work outside the nursing profession. Only a small number of Fellows are elected each year.[31] For example, in 2021, 11 fellows and two honourary fellows were elected, and in 2022, five fellows and three honourary fellows were elected.[32][33]

Fellows and honorary fellows are entitled to the postnominal FRCN.[34]

RCN Publications[edit]

RCN Publishing (branded as RCNi since March 2015) produces RCN Bulletin, a monthly member publication, and Nursing Standard, which is available through subscription and on news stands. It also publishes a range of journals for specialist nurses: Cancer Nursing Practice, Emergency Nurse, Learning Disability Practice, Mental Health Practice, Nursing Children and Young People, Nursing Management, Nursing Older People, Nurse Researcher, and Primary Health Care.[citation needed]


  1. ^ "Contact | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing.
  2. ^ "Trade unions: the current list and schedule". 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  3. ^ Peate, Ian (10 July 2013). The Student Nurse Toolkit: An Essential Guide for Surviving Your Course. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-118-39392-5.
  4. ^ "About us: our history". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  5. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 92.
  6. ^ "About us: our constitutional documents". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  7. ^ Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, B., eds. (23 September 2004), "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. ref:odnb/55672, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55672, retrieved 16 October 2022
  8. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 143.
  9. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 165.
  10. ^ "Our structure". RCN. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  11. ^ "Royal College of Nursing appoints Dame Donna Kinnair as Chief Executive and General Secretary | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing. 18 April 2019.
  12. ^ Mitchell, Gemma (28 September 2018). "RCN pay deal review finds lead negotiator role had 'conflict of interest'". Nursing Times. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  13. ^ "Breaking: RCN council lose 'no confidence' vote over NHS pay deal". Health Service Journal. 28 September 2018. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  14. ^ Collins, Annabelle (5 October 2018). "RCN to hold elections for new council following mass resignation". Health Service Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  15. ^ Connolly, Marie-Louise (7 November 2019). "NI nurses vote to strike for first time over staffing and pay". BBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  16. ^ "Decriminalise prostitution, say nurses". BBC News. 21 May 2019. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  17. ^ Campbell, Denis (20 May 2019). "Nurses vote to back decriminalisation of prostitution". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  18. ^ "Executive Team | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  19. ^ Jamieson, Alastair (28 August 2021). "Royal College of Nursing cancels in-person annual conference after 'serious allegations of sexual harassment'". Independent. Retrieved 28 August 2021.
  20. ^ a b Chappell, Elliot (6 October 2022). "Royal College of Nursing launches first UK-wide strike ballot in 106-year history". LabourList. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  21. ^ a b Gregory, Andrew; Grierson, Jamie (25 November 2022). "Nurses across UK to strike for first time on 15 and 20 December". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  22. ^ a b Burtenshaw, Ronan (18 January 2023). "'Nurses Are Striking Because Patients Are Dying'". Tribune. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  23. ^ a b Triggle, Nick (16 January 2023). "Nurses' strike: New dates as union escalates dispute". BBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  24. ^ Rogers, Alexandra (23 December 2022). "Royal College Of Nursing Announces New Strike Dates For January". HuffPost. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  25. ^ "20 Cavendish Square". Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  26. ^ "RCN Library". RCN. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  27. ^ "About the catalogue". Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  28. ^ "Medical Museums". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  29. ^ "Permanent Collections". Royal College of Nursing. Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  30. ^ "Royal College of Nursing Fellows - Royal College of Nursing Council - Archives Hub". Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  31. ^ Corr, Shauna (21 July 2021). "Meet the award-winning Mater Hospital nurse who held countless hands in stellar career spanning the Troubles and Covid". BelfastLive.
  32. ^ Ford, Steve (16 July 2021). "Former president among recipients of RCN fellowships and awards". Nursing Times. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  33. ^ "RCN Fellowship and Honorary Fellowship Roll of Honour" (PDF). June 2022.
  34. ^ "RCN Fellowship and Honorary Fellowship Roll of Honour". Royal College of Nursing. 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

51°30′58″N 0°08′45″W / 51.516134°N 0.145786°W / 51.516134; -0.145786