Royal College of Nursing

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is a registered trade union[2] and professional body in the United Kingdom for those in the profession of nursing. It was founded in 1916 as the College of Nursing, receiving its royal charter in 1928. Queen Elizabeth II was the patron until her death in 2022, King Charles III continued the royal connection and became patron in 2024.[3] 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.

Royal College of Nursing
PredecessorCollege of Nursing Ltd
Founded27 March 1916; 108 years ago (1916-03-27)
Headquarters20 Cavendish Square, London W1G 0RN[1]
  • United Kingdom
General Secretary
Professor Nicola Ranger (Acting)
Key people
Dame Sarah Swift
Sir Arthur Stanley
PublicationNursing Standard Edit this at Wikidata
Coat of arms

The RCN describes its mission as representing nurses and nursing, promoting excellence in practice and shaping health policies.[4] 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.[5] On a proposal from Dame Sarah Swift (then matron of Guy's Hospital ) and Arthur Stanley, chairman of the Joint War Organisation, developed with Rachael Cox-Davies (matron of the Royal Free Hospital) and Alicia Lloyd-Still (matron of St. Thomas Hospital ) the College was founded with articles of association.[6] The objectives of the College were 1) to promote better education and training of nurses , 2) to promote uniformity of curriculum, 3) to recognize approved nursing schools, 4) to make and maintain a register of persons who had certificates of proficiency in nursing and 5) promote bills in parliament in support of the interests of the nursing profession.[6] Eleven matrons signed the founding articles of Association , one of whom was Margaret Elwyn Sparshott.[7] It attempted amalgamation with the Royal British Nurses' Association, but this was frustrated, largely by the efforts of Ethel Gordon Fenwick.[8][6] 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. The college initially excluded male nurses, and those on the mental, mental subnormality, fever and children's nurses' registers from membership.[8] Annie Warren Gill was one of the founders of the Scottish board of the College of Nursing which held its first meeting on 1 November 1916 in Edinburgh. She was instrumental in setting up local branches in Scotland to increase membership.[9] Gill also proposed in 1922 that married members be considered part of the College, having realised that there would be a nursing shortage following World War 1.[10]

A royal charter was granted in 1928.The organisation became the College of Nursing[11] 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[12] 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".[13] 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.[14]

Since 1977 the RCN has been registered as a trade union.[15]

21st century


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.[16] 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.[17][18] Twelve of the 17 council members resigned, 10 of them standing for re-election in the subsequent election.[19]

In 2019, the RCN's first strike – limited to Northern Ireland, over staffing and pay issues – took place.[20]

In May 2019, the Royal College of Nursing voted to back the “decriminalisation” of prostitution (prostitution itself not in fact being a criminal offence.[21][22]

In April 2021, Pat Cullen started acting as General Secretary & Chief Executive, and was appointed as interim General Secretary & Chief Executive in July 2021.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25][26] The RCN commented that from 2010 (the start of the government's austerity programme) to 2022, pay for nurses had fallen by 20%.[27] The government offered a 5% pay rise to most Agenda for Change classes;[25] the RCN demanded a pay rise of retail price index inflation plus five per cent.[27] Around 60 per cent of NHS workplaces in England reached the turnout necessary to legally strike. Outside of Scotland—where the government began negotiations over its 7.5 per cent offer—strikes took place on 15 December and 20 December 2022.[26][28] In England, further strikes took place from 18 to 19 January 2023.[29] In England and Wales, the next strikes are set to occur from 6–7 February 2023.[28]


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

The headquarters are at 20 Cavendish Square, London, a Grade II listed building[30]

Regional offices


The RCN has offices throughout the UK. In England regional offices are located in Birmingham, Bolton, Bury St Edmunds, Croydon, Exeter, Newbury, Nottingham, Leeds, and Sunderland. The Northern Ireland office is in Belfast. The Scottish offices are located in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow; and the Welsh offices are located in Cardiff and Conwy.[citation needed]



The RCN is governed by its Council. Council members are guardians/trustees of the organisation's mission and values on behalf of the members. They are also charity trustees and carry legal duties and responsibilities laid down by charity law. The Council is responsible for the overall governance of the RCN, and has ultimate responsibility for the sustainability and the finances of the organisation.[citation needed]

The Council is made up of 31 Council members: two elected by each of the 12 geographical sections (Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and 9 English), two elected by student members (RCN Students), two elected by HCA members (RCN HCA), the RCN President and Deputy President, elected by all members, and the Chair of RCN Congress (non-voting), who is elected by Congress voting entities.[citation needed] The RCN's General Secretary is appointed by Council. Council members are not paid to serve on Council but voluntarily give up their time to serve the RCN and its members, in their governance role.

Chairs of Council (since 2005)

  • 2005–2013 Sandra James
  • 2013–2018 Michael Brown
  • 2018–2019 Maria Nicholson
  • 2019– Sue Warner
  • Since 2024 Paul Vaughan[31]


Previous RCN President, Andrea Spyropoulos, at the 2010 AGM

Chief Executive & General Secretary


RCN libraries

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

The RCN Library claims to be Europe's largest nursing-specific collection.[33]

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.[34][35]

Due to its historical holdings, the Library is a member of The London Museums of Health & Medicine group.[36] 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.[37]



Fellowships are selectively awarded by the RCN in recognition of exceptional contributions to nursing.[38] 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.[39] For example, in 2021, 11 fellows and two honorary fellows were elected, and in 2022, five fellows and three honorary fellows were elected.[40][41]

Fellows and honorary fellows are entitled to the postnominal FRCN.[42]

RCN publications


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. ^ "HM King Charles announced as new RCN patron | News | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing. 10 May 2024. Retrieved 29 May 2024.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ "About us: our history". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Bowman, Gerard (1967). The Lamp and the Book : the story of the RCN 1916-1966. The Queen Anne press Ltd. pp. 25–33, 34–39, 49–56.
  7. ^ Kershaw, Betty. "A proud record: nurse leaders from Manchester Royal Infirmary". International History of Nursing. 4 (2, Winter 1998-1999): 38. Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  8. ^ a b Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. pp. 90–92.
  9. ^ "Gill, Annie Warren (1862–1930), nurse". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.369141. Retrieved 31 March 2024.
  10. ^ "Gill, Annie Warren (1862–1930), nurse". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.369141. Retrieved 31 March 2024.
  11. ^ "About us: our constitutional documents". RCN. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 143.
  14. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 165.
  15. ^ "Our structure". RCN. Retrieved 27 January 2021.
  16. ^ "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.
  17. ^ Mitchell, Gemma (28 September 2018). "RCN pay deal review finds lead negotiator role had 'conflict of interest'". Nursing Times. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  18. ^ "Breaking: RCN council lose 'no confidence' vote over NHS pay deal". Health Service Journal. 28 September 2018. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  19. ^ Collins, Annabelle (5 October 2018). "RCN to hold elections for new council following mass resignation". Health Service Journal. Retrieved 21 March 2021.
  20. ^ Connolly, Marie-Louise (7 November 2019). "NI nurses vote to strike for first time over staffing and pay". BBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  21. ^ "Decriminalise prostitution, say nurses". BBC News. 21 May 2019. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  22. ^ Campbell, Denis (20 May 2019). "Nurses vote to back decriminalisation of prostitution". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  23. ^ "Executive Team | Royal College of Nursing". The Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 14 October 2021.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ 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.
  27. ^ a b Burtenshaw, Ronan (18 January 2023). "'Nurses Are Striking Because Patients Are Dying'". Tribune. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  28. ^ a b Triggle, Nick (16 January 2023). "Nurses' strike: New dates as union escalates dispute". BBC News. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  29. ^ Rogers, Alexandra (23 December 2022). "Royal College Of Nursing Announces New Strike Dates For January". HuffPost. Retrieved 21 January 2023.
  30. ^ "20 Cavendish Square". Retrieved 30 June 2006.
  31. ^ "New Chair and Vice Chair of RCN Council elected". Nursing Standard. 7 December 2023. Retrieved 10 May 2024.
  32. ^ Ford, Megan (16 June 2021). "NHS safety director elected as new president of the RCN". Nursing Times. Retrieved 9 May 2024.
  33. ^ "RCN Library". RCN. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  34. ^ "About the catalogue". Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  35. ^ "Nursing Dissertation Help". Retrieved 3 November 2023.
  36. ^ "Medical Museums". Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  37. ^ "Permanent Collections". Royal College of Nursing. Royal College of Nursing. Retrieved 26 August 2016.
  38. ^ "Royal College of Nursing Fellows - Royal College of Nursing Council - Archives Hub". Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  39. ^ 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.
  40. ^ Ford, Steve (16 July 2021). "Former president among recipients of RCN fellowships and awards". Nursing Times. Retrieved 9 January 2023.
  41. ^ "RCN Fellowship and Honorary Fellowship Roll of Honour" (PDF). June 2022.
  42. ^ "RCN Fellowship and Honorary Fellowship Roll of Honour". Royal College of Nursing. 2016. Retrieved 3 November 2016.

Further reading


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