RCN Executive team

RCN Executive Team

The Executive Team is responsible for leading the RCN

The General Secretary & Chief Executive runs the organisation with the help of the Executive Team. They get their authority from RCN Council. You can find out more about the Executive Team on this page.

Pat Cullen, Director RCN Northern Ireland

Pat Cullen, General Secretary & Chief Executive

Pat has worked at the RCN since 2016 and has been in post as Director of RCN Northern Ireland since May 2019. Pat has been acting as General Secretary & Chief Executive since April 2021, and was appointed as interim General Secretary & Chief Executive in July 2021.

In a career that has spanned both hospital and community settings, Pat was Assistant Director of Mental Health Services and Professional Head of Nursing in a local health care trust before joining the Department of Health as Nursing Officer in 2001. During this time she was involved in the development of the commissioning of the first Medium Secure Unit in Northern Ireland and the first Department of Health standards for clinical supervision in mental health nursing.

Following this, Pat took on various roles in commissioning before being appointed Deputy Director of Nursing, Safety, Quality and Patient Experience in the Public Health Agency (PHA) and Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). Pat led the development of the first safety and quality strategy in Northern Ireland and established the 10,000 Voices project which collected patient voices in order to inform commissioning decisions.

Pat was then seconded as Executive Director of Nursing and Allied Health Professions within the PHA and HSCB. Before joining the RCN, Pat, on behalf for the Department of Health, led the commissioning and performance management arrangements for unscheduled care services.

In addition to her extensive career experience, Pat is a registered psychotherapist.

Susan Aitkenhead

Susan Aitkenhead, Director of Nursing and Deputy General Secretary & Chief Executive

Susan Aitkenhead was appointed as Director of Nursing and Deputy General Secretary & Chief Executive in July 2021, having joined the RCN as Director of RCN Scotland in January 2021. Susan is a registered nurse originally trained and working in Scotland, and has a post-graduate diploma in palliative care from the University of Glasgow and an MSc in Nursing from the University of Edinburgh.

Susan has worked in a range of clinical, operational and strategic roles across a variety of healthcare settings; including provider and commissioning executive and non-executive Board roles within both the UK and overseas. 

A clinical background as one of the early nurse consultants in Scotland led on to a variety of national roles such as at the Department of Health in England, at NHS England where she led work aligned to system and service transformation; and in professional regulation across the UK at the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

She has also had the rewarding opportunity to work in nursing director posts both in New Zealand and Australia; and separately had a short foray into the commercial sector, when working within an American IT healthcare company provided valuable learning in a different customer focussed sector.

Previous to joining the RCN, Susan worked as Deputy CNO in England, where her portfolio consisted of amongst other areas, developing a collective leadership model and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard, and all roles are recognised as being equally important. 

Aaron Clift

Aaron Clift, Director of Transformation, Innovation and Digital

Aaron joined the RCN in 2020 and has overall responsibility for digital transformation.

Prior to joining the RCN, Aaron was Head of Digital Strategy Products & Innovation at NatWest and before this Head of Transformation at BT Group.

Aaron has delivered large scale transformation programmes across telecommunications and financial services including the merger of Orange and T-Mobile UK launching the EE Group and the digital transformation of commercial banking within the NatWest Group.

Aaron is passionate about transforming organisations through new ways of working using digital technology.

Rita Devlin

Rita Devlin, Acting Director, Northern Ireland

Rita has worked in a variety of clinical settings at both staff nurse and ward sister level, with experience in emergency departments and general medicine. She moved from clinical posts in 2001 to hold several corporate nursing posts within HSC trusts, with responsibility for the development and implementation of person-centred care, nurse development, service and quality improvement, and patient safety. She has a special interest in leadership, management, service improvement to improve patient experience, and human factors training. 

Rita joined the RCN in 2009 as a Senior Professional Development Officer, a role in which she developed an extensive suite of programmes for nurses and nursing assistants across both the HSC and the independent sector. During this time, Rita developed extensive facilitation experience working with health care teams to: improve, reform and modernise practice; develop and redesign services; implement evidence into practice; and evaluate the effectiveness of change. She wrote and produced the Regulating Rita play, which is used to give nurses insight into Nursing and Midwifery Council hearings. She also designed and facilitated leadership challenge events for senior nurses and student nurses. 

Rita was then promoted to the position of Associate Director of Nursing Policy and Practice, a role in which she continued to lead her team in developing the nursing profession within Northern Ireland to support member learning and development. During this time, she spent a year as acting Deputy Director in Northern Ireland. She also supported RCN members through industrial action, including strike action, in 2019 and 2020 and at that time was Trade Union Side Secretary for the RCN. Rita is currently the Acting Director of the RCN in Northern Ireland. 

Rita is a Florence Nightingale Leadership Scholar, a management coach, and an experienced facilitator. She has delivered leadership programmes across the island of Ireland and in England and Scotland, and she has facilitated a variety of multidisciplinary service improvement initiatives to transform health care and the patient experience. 
 
Patricia Marquis

Patricia Marquis, Acting Director, England

Having qualified as a Registered Nurse in her home town of Blackpool and a brief spell working in the US, Patricia moved to Oxfordshire and worked as a specialist orthopaedic nurse for many years. Wanting to support her colleagues more she got involved with the Royal College of Nursing as a workplace representative. Developing this passion for fairness and promoting nursing she became a member of RCN staff over 20 years ago and, having held a number of roles, now leads the delivery of RCN services across England. 

Image Pending

Steve Mason, Interim Director of People & OD 

Biography to follow.

Colin Poolman

Colin Poolman, Interim Director, Scotland

Colin took up his new post of Interim Scotland Director in September 2021. A registered nurse for over 30 years, Colin has been a key member of the RCN Scotland team for many years, most recently as Associate Director for Pay, Terms and Conditions. Colin has also worked across the UK and spent time working as an Associate Director in RCN Northern Ireland just before the pandemic as well as operationally leading the RCN UK Pay Programme supporting the RCN’s Fair Pay for Nursing campaign.
Yajna Sooklall

Yajna Sooklall, Director of Finance and Business Enablement

Yajna joined the RCN in February 2021 and has overall responsibility for finance, membership administration, marketing and events. 

She is a Fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants and qualified with an MBA from the Oxford Brookes University. She has 23 years of experience in finance, working across the charity, commercial and public sectors. Yajna previously worked as the Head of Financial Reporting at ARK Schools and prior to that, was the Deputy Chief Finance Officer at the NHS Camden Clinical Commissioning Group. 

Yajna was born in the multicultural island of Mauritius and comes from a family of nurses. She began her career in nursing, working as a Care Assistant and Auxiliary Nurse which remains a very rewarding experience. 
 
Nicole Valentinuzzi

Nicole Valentinuzzi, Director of Communications

Nicole joined the RCN in 2020. Previously she was the Director of Communications and Marketing at the Institute for Government, the UK's leading think tank working on government effectiveness. Having worked in Westminster for over a decade, she has held communications and private secretary roles in the Cabinet Office and Ministry of Justice.

Nicole has advised on global communication campaigns for a range of organisations, including international NGOs and grassroots charities, and she is currently a trustee of the Schools Consent Project. Her professional training and background is in journalism and public communications.

Helen Whyley

Helen Whyley, Director, Wales

Helen has been in post since November 2018 and was previously been Associate Director (Employment Relations) at RCN Wales. She is Chair of the All Wales Trade Union Group, Wales NHS Partnership Forum. Helen previously worked in the office of the Welsh Government's Chief Nursing Officer including advising on policy on the Nurse Staffing Levels (Wales) Act 2016. Her clinical background is in intensive care.