The CSP's Annual Representative Conference takes place next week, and is an important forum through which members can make their views heard, but it is not the only one.
'It's important we don't leave structures and approaches that worked well 50 years ago as they are. We have to be able to adapt and use new opportunities to get members to be more involved,' says CSP chief executive Phil Gray of the Society's democratic processes. One such adaptation this year sees the Society using new technology to broaden debate of motions to be discussed at ARC. For the first time, members have been able to discuss and vote on motions through the Society's networking website interactiveCSP. Mr Gray says the new approach should widen 'the opportunity to hear people's voices'. ARC brings together representatives from across the profession to influence CSP policy on a range of issues – professional, clinical, educational, employment and social. Motions can be proposed by members through nominated groups, such as those representing clinical interests, students, assistants and regional stewards. Alex MacKenzie, chair of the Society's industrial relations committee, says: 'I think ARC is an incredibly important forum. It allows individual members to put across their point of view. It's also an opportunity to meet up with people from other parts of the Society that they might not come across in their normal activities.'
Council and committeesAs well as ARC, members can use numerous other channels to have their say. They can stand for Council (the Society's governing body), and the three elected CSP standing committees – learning and development, industrial relations and professional practice - plus several other committees, where much of the work is done turning policy into practice. Mr Gray says: 'It's also perfectly possible for members or groups of members to ask committee members to raise issues and topics and get these discussed on agendas. Council members have also got the right to do that.' To get in touch with a Council or committee member, CSP members can use contact numbers published in the Society's annual report or make contact through their board or branch representative.
Boards and branchesThe CSP currently has 12 regional and UK boards, with a varying number of active members and each of which elects a representative on to Council. These boards, and the branches within each region, serve as a direct line of contact between the Society's members, Council and the officers employed by the CSP. Philip Hulse, who represents West Midlands Board on Council, says some boards are better attended and 'more vibrant' than others. He tells Frontline: 'The CSP recognises that something needs to be done to improve the function of the boards, and so lots of avenues are being looked at. 'In West Midlands we invite workplace representatives to board meetings as well as people from different parts of the profession. It's a good model.' Mr Hulse is a member of the Society's board regeneration working group, which is looking at trying to improve the way the CSP interacts with its network of boards and branches, a system set up in the 1920s. A report containing recommendations is due to be presented to Council this spring. Dorothy Toyn, who chairs the group and sits on Council as Eastern Board representative, says: 'One of the aims is to improve democracy, and this two-way communication system where we want to know from members what the issues are and we need to get back to them quickly at the grass roots.' Council chair Liz Cavan, who also represents Northern Ireland Board, says the boards for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland appear to work very well, because they have a 'specific remit'. However, she says of the English boards: 'Some work very effectively and some don't. We're trying to make the representative structure better, to upgrade it and make it fit for purpose.' Marie Owen, Scottish Board rep on Council, concedes recruiting members on to boards can be 'difficult'. She says: 'We're proposing a new structure to allow us to engage with all Scottish members more easily and have better representation geographically.' However, Ms Owen believes there is an effective interplay between the Scottish Board and Council. 'A lot of the big issues around government are coming straight to Scottish Board, and therefore when we go to Council we can summarise what's happening because we're obviously nearer the issue.'
Stewards and safety representativesMs MacKenzie says democracy is also thriving in the Society's networks of stewards and health and safety representatives. The CSP has more than 1,000 trained stewards and 700 union safety reps in the NHS and in independent sector workplaces. They help members with personal or general issues, particularly around employment and health and safety matters in the workplace. The elected representatives provide an essential link between the CSP and its members, and stewards within an NHS region elect regional stewards who hold seats on CSP committees that have the potential to impact on the terms and conditions of employment in the NHS. There is also a national group of regional stewards that can submit motions on a range of issues to ARC. Ms MacKenzie says: 'Stewards feed up through the regional stewards, and issues from there can be taken forward on to the IR committee. It's a very vibrant network. We have quite a number of seats at ARC, and they're divided up between the regions. We nearly always fill all our places.'
ChallengesMr Gray says one of the Society's key responsibilities is to ensure that members are kept abreast of the issues and challenges facing the profession. Information is shared through the CSP's member magazine Frontline and the Society's website, highlighting for example developments in government policy and their effect on healthcare delivery. Members themselves also share knowledge on iCSP, which hosts discussion forums used by some 100 'electronic communities' and clinical interest groups. Mr Gray says: 'That's important for the members and also very important for the CSP because we can learn a lot about the issues and challenges facing the members.' He says the true test of a democratic structure is whether it helps members to 'make a difference to the real world in which they work and the real challenges they face. 'It is crucially about encouraging and enabling members to support themselves at local level, and influence at local and national level.'
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