Royal College of Nursing

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Full nameRoyal College of Nursing
Mottotradimus lampada
Motto in EnglishWe carry the torch
Founded1916 (1916)
PredecessorProvincial Medical and Surgical Association
JournalNursing Standard
Key peopleSidney Brown (Founder)
Office location20 Cavendish Square, london W1G 0RN[1]
CountryUnited Kingdom Edit this at Wikidata

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. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is the patron. 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.[citation needed] 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 around the country. The RCN Institute also provides courses for nurses.


In 1916 the College of Nursing Ltd was founded with 34 members as a professional organisation for trained nurses[3] on a proposal from Arthur Stanley. Part of the objective was to set up a register of nurses. It was very explicitly not to be a Trade Union. It attempted an 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, thus excluding male nurses.[4]

A Royal Charter was granted in 1928 and the organisation became the College of Nursing.[5] It pushed for registered nurses to be given precedence, and to be in charge. In 1935 the Trades Union Congress promoted a 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 v[6] oluntary snobs".[7] 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.[8]

Since 1977 the RCN has been registered as a trade union.[9]

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


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[14]


The RCN is a membership organisation and a trade union with over 435,000 members. Nursing students may join at reduced fees. Following the announcement of the removal of NHS Student bursaries in November 2015 the RCN declared its opposition for this decision in their manifesto "Nursing counts".[15]

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.[16]

The London Library, 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.[17] Due to its historical holdings, the Library is a member of The London Museums of Health & Medicine group.[18] 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.[19]


The RCN awards Fellowships for exceptional contributions to nursing. Honorary Fellowships can also be granted by 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. Fellows and Honorary Fellows are entitled to the postnominal FRCN.[20]

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.


  1. ^ "Royal College of Nursing Head Office".
  2. ^ "Trade unions: the current list and schedule". 14 July 2020. Retrieved 14 October 2020.
  3. ^ "About us: our history". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  4. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 92.
  5. ^ "About us: our constitutional documents". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  6. ^ "RCN to hold elections for new council following mass resignation". Health Service Journal. 5 October 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  7. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 143.
  8. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 165.
  9. ^ "About us: our structure". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  10. ^ "RCN appoints Dame Donna Kinnair as Chief Executive and General Secretary".
  11. ^ Mitchell, Gemma (28 September 2018). "RCN pay deal review finds lead negotiator role had 'conflict of interest'". Nursing Times. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  12. ^ "Breaking: RCN council lose 'no confidence' vote over NHS pay deal". Health Service Journal. 28 September 2018. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  13. ^ "RCN to hold elections for new council following mass resignation". Health Service Journal. 5 October 2018. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
  14. ^ "20 Cavendish Square". Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  15. ^ "Nursing Counts". The Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 9 February 2016.
  16. ^ "RCN Library". RCN. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  17. ^ "About the catalogue". Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  18. ^ "Medical Museums". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  19. ^ "Permanent Collections". Royal College of Nursing. Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  20. ^ "RCN Fellowship and Honorary Fellowship Roll of Honour". Royal College of Nursing. 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

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