The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)
The Royal College of Nurs
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The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN)

Politics and Administration


The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is a registered trade union 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. 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 on 27th March 1916 with 34 members as a professional organisation for trained nurses on a proposal from Dame Sarah Swift and Sir 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 and those on the mental, mental subnormality, fever and children's registers.

A Royal Charter was granted in 1928 and the organisation became the College of Nursing and Frances Goodall became 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 and 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 voluntary snobs". 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.

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


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Alena Potapova

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