The Monarchy

Nursing and the Monarchy

For 70 years British nurses have belonged to a "royal" college. In a similar fashion military aviators are in the "royal" airforce, the leading animal welfare charity is the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and so on. Britons have been proud to belong to "royal" organisations. Any protest would have been considered almost treasonous.

But now the editor-in-chief of the respected Nursing Times has dared to suggest that British nurses would be better off without the "royal" connection. And she claims that her views have support amongst nursing professionals.

It is time for the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives to think the unthinkable and sever their royal connections, says Jane Salvage.

As the Royal Family struggles to regain popularity and create a new image, the very institution of monarchy is increasingly being challenged. So isn't it time the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives thought about scrapping their "royal" label?

Back in time's deep shade, having a royal prefix endowed an organisation with an aura of respectability. The College of Nursing, founded in 1916, sounded like what it was - small and insignificant. By 1928, when it received a royal charter, it was much stronger. The RCM trod a similar path, gaining its royal charter in 1947.

The 30,000 RCN members who applauded the bestowal of the title "royal" by King George VI in 1939 must have felt that they were finally on the map. Ever since, both colleges have enjoyed wheeling out their royal patrons for special occasions and sending their best-behaved members and staff off to the palace to eat cucumber sandwiches or pick up pips and gongs.

The search for power and influence has long preoccupied nursing leaders and prompted different strategies. Those who saw salvation in mass struggle had no truck with the aristocracy. Those of more conservative hue attempted to tag along with the upper class and its medical royal colleges.

These days, however, it is debatable whether regality promotes the right image. It suggests fusty tradition and boring, buttoned-up respectability rather than lively, dynamic organisations fit for the 21st century. And just how much of a privilege is it to share the royal label with, say, the Royal Arsenal Sports and Recreational Association or the Royal College of Organists?

Lest you think that these are merely the rantings of a solitary republican, be warned - I am not alone. The challenge has come directly from grass-roots RCN members. Asked in its "Futures" project to articulate their hopes and fears for nursing and the National Health Service, RCN members said plans for devolution, constitutional reform and the role of the monarchy "raised questions about the relevance of the term 'royal' to the RCN."

Some members urged consultation on the benefits and limitations of continuing its association with the concept of "royal." You wont find this in the published report, however - it was edited out of the earliest draft.

The government's constitutional policies could transform many class-ridden , hierarchical, racist and sexist organisations. The think tank Demos has devised a sweeping plan to modernise the monarchy, including stripping the Queen of her political power and requiring the monarch to be endorsed by referendum.

These new Labour boffins also urge the royal family to use NHS rather than private health care - which they rarely, if ever, do. Instead you see them on television waving goodbye from swanky private hospital porticos, adoringly attended by nurses in starched pinnies and silly hats.

Ironic, really, that the very people who are supposed to bestow such honour on the royal colleges not only refuse to use the service that most members support so loyally but have no idea of their working conditions. And it's hard to imagine that at their weekly meeting Ma'am is instructing the Prime Minister to pay the nurses more.

Many college members would probably be horrified at the thought of getting rid of the royals, including those who responded to a recent Nursing Times survey asking which public figure would make a good nurse. Only Mo Mowlam (the government minister responsible for Northern Ireland) received more votes than the Duchess of Kent, Princess Diana and Princess Anne. However, as five people chose Rolf Harris (a popular TV host) these findings do not bear close analysis.

A good vote on the issue would provide a timely link with the important wider discussion of what kind of society we want. The RCM and RCN represent mainly women and people from ethnic minorities - professionals who gain their education and achievements through hard work, not inherited privilege. They could lead the way by adopting titles and styles in keeping with their members' talents and values and by having the courage to discard the trappings of a discredited establishment.

Jane Salvage, Editor-in-Chief, The Nursing Times


Reproduced by kind permission of Jane Salvage and The Nursing Times . © Emap Business Communications Ltd.

Publication on the Centre for Citizenship's site does not imply that the writer or publishers of this article endorse the Centre or its policies.

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