Concerns have been raised about a lack of nursing leadership at the top of the Nursing and Midwifery Council after it emerged another senior nurse had quit the troubled regulator.
Nursing Times has learnt that NMC director of standards and registration Roger Thompson has resigned.
A learning disability nurse by background, Mr Thompson had been with the NMC and one of its predecessors, the English National Board for nursing, midwifery and health visiting, since 1995.
The NMC declined to give a reason for his departure, which preceded that of former chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes, whose resignation was announced on 12 January.
Their departure leaves director of education Rita Newland as the only member of the NMC’s executive team with a nursing background.
Director of fitness to practise Jackie Smith has been appointed interim chief executive, while assistant director of policy and standards Katerina Kolyva is acting up in Mr Thompson’s role. Neither have been on the nursing register.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton told Nursing Times it was “crucial” there was “strong professional nursing leadership” as part of the NMC’s senior team.
Unison head of Nursing Gail Adams said: “There is an insufficient number of nurses at the NMC at a senior level…registrants will be concerned whether they have an understanding of the issues.”
She also criticised the regulator for not formally disclosing Mr Thompson’s resignation on 2 December.
Ms Adams said Unison had a good relationship with the interim leaders but would want to see a nurse in the director of standards and registration post, and a more representative board with either the chair or chief executive a registrant.
A spokeswoman said the NMC would be reviewing its “arrangements” for the standards and registration post later in the year.
As revealed by Nursing Times last week, the NMC has been placed under review by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence. Its review is expected to focus on the NMC’s failure to clear a backlog of fitness to practise cases.
An NMC spokesman said its project work had been halted and was “under review”.
This includes its review of the third part of the register for health visitors and other specialist community staff.
Ms Adams said it was right for the NMC to “park” some projects and focus on improving fitness to practise delivery in the short term.
An audit of the NMC in November by the CHRE found there were still “areas of significant weaknesses” in its handling of cases.
Alison While, associate dean at the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery at King’s College London, said she hoped the review would help the NMC to reflect on what its “core mission” should be.
She said there was a risk that extending its role, for example by regulating healthcare assistants, could distract the NMC from its main role of licensing nurses and midwives.
However, others expressed concern about the delay to the review of the third part of the register.
Unite lead professional officer for health visiting Obi Amadi told Nursing Times it was “disappointing”, as it was an important part of plans to expand the health visiting and school nurse workforce.
In a speech last autumn, Professor Weir-Hughes said the third part of the register was a “shambles” and in urgent need of reform.
He was also an outspoken supporter of the mandatory regulation of HCAs, a policy not supported by the CHRE or the government. The NMC “clarified” its position on HCA regulation in a letter to Nursing Times this month, noting that its council had not formally agreed to pursue it as a policy.
Senior nurses from organisations that work closely with the NMC told Nursing Times they had not been surprised to learn of Professor Weir-Hughes’ departure, as they had been aware of tensions within the NMC, one of which was HCA regulation.
Chair of health services research at Southampton University Peter Griffiths said the NMC’s interest in HCA regulation had been unwelcome in “certain circles”.
“They may have left themselves open to some criticism,” he said. But he added that he thought wherever “nursing work was being carried out”, including that by HCAs, it should be considered a “matter for the NMC”.