Nurses BANNED from drinking booze at annual congress ‘to prevent any inappropriate behaviour’
Nurses have been restricted to drinking mocktails and soft drinks at their annual congress after union leaders banned alcohol to prevent inappropriate behaviour.
The Royal College of Nursing has barred the provision of free alcohol at all its events in the wake of an independent review which exposed a ‘boozy, sexualised culture’ at previous gatherings.
It meant the 2,700 delegates at the congress in Brighton this week were greeted with fruit juice cocktails in lieu of a traditional drinks reception.
And the union’s usually convivial congress social was replaced with a ‘two-course meal and a soft drink’ at Brighton’s DoubleTree by Hilton Metropole hotel on Wednesday night.
The RCN quietly brought in the alcohol-free event policy last month, following an independent review of the culture within the union and its management by Bruce Carr KC.
Nurses have been banned from the booze at their annual congress this year, after previous events were found to encourage ‘inappropriate behaviour
The union was previously rocked by a damming probe that highlighted instances of bullying, misogyny and inappropriate sexual behaviour (pictured RCN HQ)
His damning report, published in October 2022, found the annual congress was ‘seen as a place at which there is, for at least some attendees, an expectation of, or an opportunity for, sex to take place… There is also the opportunity for alcohol and power-related exploitation of the vulnerable’.
The report also revealed extra-marital affairs were common, with the term ‘Congress wife (or husband)’ in ‘common usage’ as a way of referring to flings during the annual meeting.
The Carr review was commissioned in 2021 after the RCN received allegations of sexual harassment. That year, it moved its annual congress online to ensure the ‘safety’ of delegates.
At this week’s event – the first annual congress since the Carr report was published – the programme for delegates featured a two-page guide detailing how the RCN was ‘keeping you safe’.
It said: ‘There is a zero tolerance approach and verbal or physical abuse, coercion, sexual harassment, discrimination or any other form of inappropriate behaviour will not be tolerated.’
The guide warned attendees they ‘must uphold the best image of nursing’ and that ‘Congress 2023 will be memorable for all the right reasons… Keeping us all safe in Brighton is everybody’s business’.
Nurses were given access to a ‘wellbeing hub’, featuring a ‘safe space’ where they were encouraged to speak to staff about ‘any challenging situations’.
They were also provided with a counselling room, staffed by a qualified counsellor, and access to mental health first aiders, as well as being directed to an online library of wellbeing video tutorials, on topics like ‘mindfulness’ and ‘guided journaling’.
Other wellbeing events included a ‘Singing for Health – Singing in Solidarity’ session, where nurses were encouraged to join a ‘pop-up choir’ to discover the ‘benefits of singing’.
The new alcohol guideline is part of the union’s Safety and Conduct at RCN Events policy, which was published less than a month before this year’s congress commenced.
It states: ‘As part of our responsibilities to provide a safe environment the RCN policy is that the RCN will not purchase alcohol for participants. For example, there will be no provision by the RCN of alcoholic drinks at receptions or dinners.’
There was no ban on nurses buying their own alcoholic drinks outside the event, but no alcohol was on sale within the venue.
An RCN spokesperson said: ‘The RCN is committed to the safety and wellbeing of all its members and has learnt from and acted on the findings of the review by Bruce Carr KC.
‘As a result of the review, new safeguarding measures and protocols have been introduced and we are modernising our governance and rethinking our approach to equality and inclusivity.
‘Congress in Brighton this year has shown the power of the voice of our members and our collective voice is louder and our professional image much improved.’