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Friday, 14 June, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
Profile: Dr Beverly Malone
Beverly Malone: Hired to add sparkle
Britain's nursing union gambled that recruiting a pugnacious foreigner - a former aide to Bill Clinton - to its top job would benefit its members. But is it paying off?

Royal College of Nursing general secretary Dr Beverly Malone has now had a year to settle into the different style of health service politics in the UK.

And, this week, she has had her first taste of the internal politics of the Royal College.

Disgruntled elements within the union are trying to force a potentially embarrassing extraordinary general meeting - and could force a vote of "no confidence" in her performance.

In isolation, the complaints against her - against her reorganisation of the college, her remuneration, and a visit to a Labour fundraiser - seem far from fatal, but are combining to fuel unease about her.

She has won many friends in the year since her appointment, but, perhaps more crucially, there are still a determined few who believe the job should have gone to a homegrown candidate.

Dr Malone saw off three of those to succeed Christine Hancock in the post, with a salary in excess of 100,000 a year, along with generous relocation and travel benefits.

With many of her members struggling by on salaries below 20,000, her performance was always likely to be under fierce scrutiny.

Credentials

Born into a baptist family in Kentucky in 1948, she worked as a surgical staff nurse, combining this with academic study which led eventually to a degree in nursing and a doctorate in clinical psychology.

In 1996, she became president of the American Nurses' Association, the start of her climb up the political ladder.

Her charismatic style was noticed by the Clinton administration, and in 2000, she was recruited as deputy assistant secretary at the US health department.

Her role was to advise on health policy and programmes, but in fact, she only spent a year in the role before winning the Royal College of Nursing job.

Dynamic

It is hard to imagine a wider contrast between her approach, and the traditional methods of the college.

Although to all intents and purposes a trade union, the college had rarely taken an aggressive stance when it came to negotiations with government.

Its perceived image, when compared with other NHS unions, was slightly middle-aged, with the college holding a no-strike pledge up until 1995.

Opportunities

Dr Malone, now representing more than 300,000 nurses, came to the table at a pivotal moment for the profession.

Not only was the government keen to attract more recruits to the profession - and encourage back those driven away by years of low pay, there was a realisation that the job description would have to be revolutionised.

Nurses are now taking on roles previously the exclusive preserve of doctors - and are likely to encroach further in future.

It is hard to judge whether, so far, Dr Malone's influence is winning extra concessions from a government desperate to meet ambitious targets for the NHS.

The nurses already enjoy a slightly more cordial relationship with Health Secretary Alan Milburn than the doctors' union, and have enjoyed above-inflation pay rises to encourage recruitment.

However, if this progress does not continue, then she is far more likely to find herself facing internal sniping than her predecessor.

The RCN is paying for results, and Dr Malone must deliver them.

See also:

14 Jun 02 | Health
28 Apr 01 | Health
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