Hundreds of nurses visit RCN Congress each year, yet very few are from the
field of occupational health. Two practicing OH nurses decided to go and find
out if it was a worthwhile experience, by Greta Thornbory
This year’s RCN Congress was entitled ‘Transforming Care’. It ran from 27
April to 2 May. It is free to attend and the RCN Society of Occupational Health
Nursing offers up to £250 towards expenses to members who apply. So why don’t
more OH nurses attend? My colleague and I spent two days there to see what it
has to offer.
The original purpose of congress is enshrined in the constitution (see box
right). To facilitate all of its 13 purposes, it has a number of facets:
– The formal committee or debating sessions
– Educational events
– Social and networking
The formal debating session
Items for the agenda of the formal debating session are submitted earlier in
the year from RCN branches and forums and some 30 items are printed in the
There is an opportunity during congress for emergency items to be discussed.
The debating sessions are very structured and formal, and there are laid down
procedures for how things are done. There are allocated voting members from all
the branches and forums. Any member can speak during a debate.
However, if you don’t want to go into the chamber, there are live close
circuit TV points around the exhibition and coffee lounges. Voting is carried
out using keypads and the results are known within minutes. Many of the items
discussed would not be of interest to OH nurses, but a few have real relevance.
The debates can even be watched live online from the RCN website, and after
voting, each debate is listed on the site along with the points made for and
against and by whom, the background information and references, followed by the
A 60-page booklet lists the educational events throughout the week. There
are around 50 to 60 educational events per day taking place in and around the
conference centre, so take time to read and plan what to attend as many run at
the same time.
On the first day, we chose two specific events, although there were others
we would like to have attended.
At lunchtime there was a meeting with the Health & Safety Commission
(HSC), where two commissioners and the HSE’s John Thompson gave a presentation.
There was an opportunity to ask questions and take part in the discussion, and
a lunch was provided.
Later in the day, we went to the launch of ‘Defining Nursing’, led by Dame
June Clark. This was a historic moment as this definition had been explored
right across the profession, and had been out for consultation throughout
nursing in the UK (see chart opposite, p21).
The website, where people can also comment on the subject, had a massive
160,000 hits – nearly 50 per cent of the RCN membership. The booklet Defining
Nursing gives details of the new definition and can be obtained from the RCN
direct, or downloaded in pdf format from the website.
A questionnaire will shortly be available from the RCN, directly or online,
to validate the definition and give even more people a chance to comment and
We also attended separate workshops. Mine was on ‘Mapping Your Universe’, an
exercise in identifying personal stressors and how to make small but positive
lifestyle changes. It was extremely worthwhile – I came away with a useful tool
that I could use elsewhere and with some positive thoughts about how to make
some changes of my own.
My colleague attended a workshop entitled ‘What kind of leader are you?
Learning about different approaches’.
It looked at three different models of leadership – clinical, primary care
and political, the skills and knowledge needed to lead for each type. Again, my
colleague found it was time well-spent and something to make her think further
She also attended a seminar on continuing professional development (CPD). So
in two days, we had each attended at least four hours of formal professional
The congress exhibition has more than 150 stands. These include
universities, drug companies, publishers, charities and food manufacturers, and
There were many free gifts and competitions. I came away with a travel
clock, a free stethoscope and a pocket full of pens, pads and postcards, and
both me and my colleague had carrier bags full of leaflets, CDs and journals.
This is the place to pick up professional journals to see whether they cover
topics that interest you.
I was quite impressed with Practice Nursing, as the latest issue had
articles on lung function testing, occupational wounds and travel health.
Of the RCN specialist journals, Nursing Management had an article on
budgeting written by the Open University’s Professor Henderson; Emergency Nurse
had an article on metallic and inorganic mercury poisoning; and Blackwell’s
Journal of Nursing Management had an article on clinical supervision as a model
of clinical leadership by Johns.
I also collected a leaflet on a new journal about to be published by Whurr
Publishers on musculoskeletal care, but this appears to be without an OH
professional or ergonomist on the editorial board – they don’t even get a
The Tobacco Information Campaign had a stand with a variety of leaflets and
resources available. The Health Development Agency promoted its work with some
handy leaflets, such as Prevention and reduction of Alcohol Misuse: review of
reviews. Also useful is the booklet Introducing health impact assessment:
Informing the decision making process, which can be found at www.hda.nhs.uk.
I was also interested to see the National Institute for Clinical Excellence
(NICE) stand (www.nice.org.uk). I picked up its catalogue on guidance for the
use of nicotine replacement therapy and bupropion for smoking cessation. It
makes interesting reading for those whose work involves recommending such
therapies in smoking cessation clinics.
Other stands offered back massage equipment, nail care, hand creams, fruit
juices and cereals or yoghurt.
The food stands were very much into promoting healthy eating. The charities
offered leaflets and information. I found them all very helpful, especially
when dealing with staff with specific health conditions.
Social events and networking
RCN Congress offered several evening events:
– Nursing standard party, Sunday night
– Congress party, Monday night (paid for by the RNPF)
– Nursing Times party, Tuesday night
All the parties were free, with free food, dancing and cabaret. The only
thing you had to pay for were the drinks.
It was a good time to meet up with old friends and let your hair down.
Meeting up with professional colleagues and old acquaintances is all part of
congress, exchanging information over a coffee and renewing old relationships.
There was an RCN lounge and several coffee bars where you could sit and chat,
and a Cyber café where you could check e-mails or carry out searches. There
were also a number of RCN staff on hand to help people who may have had trouble
exploring the internet.
At the end of two days, my colleague and I felt we’d had a beneficial
We came away with reading material, some interesting contacts and a generous
amount of professional updating. We agreed the two days were more worthwhile
than many other OH or health and safety conferences, which cost more and offer a
Not only is congress free to all nurses, but OH nurses can also apply to the
society for expenses funding to cover their travel, subsistence and hotel
So why not make a note to go next year and swell the numbers of occupational
health nurses taking an interest in the biggest nursing event of the year.
Greta Thornbory MSC RGN OHNC DipNOH PGCEA MIOSH