The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) is to make it more difficult for members to call an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), after a report earlier this year found people’s names were added fraudulently to an EGM petition.
At the RCN’s annual general meeting (AGM) yesterday, a motion to change the way EGM petitions are handled was supported by 85% of the roughly 13,000 attending members.
“They have made it 25 times more difficult for members to hold [RCN leaders] to account”
This motion, which was split across three sub-sections, amended RCN’s standing orders – the rules which govern union votes and democracy – to require 5% of the overall union’s membership to support an EGM petition for it to be carried, totalling around 25,000.
Previously, 1,000 RCN members had to sign a petition supporting an EGM for one to go ahead.
This motion also amended the standing orders to allow RCN Council (the union’s leadership) to: “Make regulations to establish how requisitions [petitions] calling for an EGM are to be submitted and authenticated, to ensure their validity.”
It is understood this means RCN’s leadership will now look into how best to avoid fraudulent votes and petitions.
These changes come after an independent investigation into an alleged data breach found that up to half (570) of the signatures on a 2023 petition of no confidence against the RCN’s leadership were added fraudulently.
The investigation, carried out by data security firm Dionach, said the culprit was likely a “third party” and not likely to be the petitioners or an RCN member of staff.
It further concluded that the “likely source” of the information used to create the fraudulent sign-ups was another EGM petition lodged against the RCN in 2020, which was shared with “a large number” of people in the organisation.
Ed Freshwater, who set up the 2020 petition, said he did not think the motions passed by the RCN this week would address the issue of people’s data being fraudulently used to sign petitions they did not necessarily agree with.
He said: “They have made it 25 times more difficult for members to hold [RCN leaders] to account.
“It doesn’t address the issue of falsifying data at all.”
Mr Freshwater further said he felt that the 5% threshold for getting an EGM in motion was too high, adding: “RCN, with all of its resources, social media presence, and access to members’ emails, was only able to get 13,000 people to turn out to a general meeting.
“How is any regular member supposed to be able to gather 25,000 signatures from across the country without access to any of those resources, all on their own, while they’re a full time nurse? It’s completely ridiculous.”
In addition, Mr Freshwater noted that the RCN’s commitment to improving petition signature authentication was currently “just words”.
RCN declined to respond to Mr Freshwater’s comments.
As well as the changes to the ways EGMs are called, the motion passed at the AGM this week further changed the standing orders to give members a “direct route” to submit items for discussion at a general meeting of the union.
Other motions voted in at the AGM included increasing council members’ terms of office by a year and permitting the council to set subscription rates for another five years.
RCN Council vice chair Paul Vaughan said the motions would provide “stability” and would help the RCN make the changes that were recommended by recent external reports into the union’s governance and culture.
Mr Vaughan added: “The council I have joined fairly recently is focused on holding the executive to account for the delivery of the RCN’s new strategy, ensuring we deliver together on transformation of our professional union and the sound finances that allow for continued support of members and our future growth.”