Labour Briefing: You’ve been fighting for a fair deal for nurses since the student bursary was abolished by the current government. Your latest campaign has resulted in the RCN chief executive and council standing down and calling a fresh election to council positions. How do you engage and mobilise an audience of nurses that is traditionally fragmented and generally opposed to strikes and direct action?
Danielle Tiplady: It is a common misconception that nurses are opposed to more direct actions - it is just that for a long time we have not harnessed our voices and energy. After years of cuts to our profession nurses are tired but also angry. We are at the point where enough is enough. Engaging people is hard, though: we have a huge workforce spread out all over the country. Firstly you need to tap into issues that matter to nurses and utilise every avenue you can and be imaginative with it.
I’m fortunate to have a group of fantastic activist friends in the RCN and together we are creative with social media for our campaigning, whether this be making videos, sharing photos, petitions and testimonies or by opening up debates.
Then there is the 'boots on the ground' style campaigning such as going to leaflet outside hospitals at grim handover times (6.30am), putting on meetings, and going around the hospitals to talk to colleagues. I am not afraid to challenge the status quo and say sometimes difficult things. People recognise that and then feel able to speak up as well.
Nurses’ anger is there - it is palpable. They just need to have an avenue to channel it and people telling them that they believe in them.
What can other campaigners take from this in engaging grassroots and building activism?
As activists we have to believe in one another, and support and listen to one another, in order to build an effective campaigning force. Use all channels open to you and - where relevant - work with groups pursuing similar aims. As a Labour Party member I work with comrades from across the UK, speak at events on the impact of austerity, cuts and privatisation to all our public services - with a focus on the NHS and nursing. This involves working in particular with unions, the People’s Assembly and Labour Assembly Against Austerity.
I’d urge all activists to take every opportunity to speak about your issue in local and national media on platforms with those who support - and oppose - you. This can be scary at first, but be brave, clear and authentic, with all your facts to hand, and this empowers others. If I can do it, anyone can!
What are some of the highlights of your campaigning?
My biggest highlight is becoming part of the international community of activists. I’ve learned so much from different people I’ve met from all over the globe. It’s surprising what you learn - not only about local issues and global connections, but also about yourself by being involved in activism. Having tea and cake with Jeremy Corbyn and a group of nurses during the general election was one of the most memorable moments. It was an honour to sit and discuss my profession with such a wonderful man and some very impressive nurses. Speaking at the Scrap the Cap nurses’ rally at Parliament last year, the atmosphere was electric - the feeling of unity between all of us RCN members was something special which I will never forget.
Where do you get your inspiration and motivation to continue campaigning, while studying and working in a high pressure environment?
My motivation comes from believing we can make a better world. There is an alternative. I have always been political but when I was at university and the government took away the student nurse bursary, that was the final straw. That’s when I become very active, because I knew that the bursary meant the difference between working class students being able to study for nursing and not.
I happened to start being active politically around the same time as Jeremy’s first leadership campaign. This was purely a coincidence - but the change in the leadership and approach of the Labour Party has been a huge support and inspiration to believe that real transformation is possible.
I am inspired daily by my colleagues. Determined, knowledgeable, hard working and full of technical skill. Nurses deserve so much better than how things are now. And I’m motivated by working with like-minded campaigners to ensure a Corbyn-led Labour government.
What's next on your list?
At present the role of General Secretary of the RCN is appointed. I strongly believe that this key role should be elected. So to make our union more accountable and democratic this is something I’ll be campaigning for. Unfortunately, I can’t stand as a member of the RCN council as I haven’t been a member long enough. So I will be supporting Tom Bolger for the London seat as he has the necessary skills and qualities to reclaim our union into the hands of the members.
There are 42,000 nursing vacancies across the UK at present and as a result our working conditions are becoming increasingly challenging. Nurses go without breaks on a daily basis, sometimes even without going to the toilet as our ratio of patients increases. We desperately need to ensure we have the correct number of nurses in clinical areas so patients get the care they deserve. This is why I will be campaigning for the government to introduce safe staffing laws.
Overall I will be continuing to pursue pushing for a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government. Labour is the only party with policies that understand nursing and that would make this country a better place to pursue a nursing career. From reinstating the bursary, to safe staffing, to fair pay, Labour policies would encourage recruitment and retention of nurses in our NHS.