Nurses facing fitness to practise proceedings can now avoid a full hearing if they admit they are at fault, following the introduction of two new measures by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Under one of the changes to the system, which came into force today, a nurse can admit that their fitness to practise is impaired and accept a sanction, such as suspension, proposed by the NMC.
Allegations will have to be admitted in full and details of cases dealt with under the process will be recorded and published in the same way as all other NMC panel determinations.
The regulator believes the move will bring significant benefits, including avoiding unnecessary full hearings and resolving cases quicker – and therefore helping it reduce its historical backlog of cases.
The process is called “consensual panel determination” by the NMC, although it is known in legal circles as “consensual disposal”. It is already used by the General Medical Council.
The decision to introduce it was agreed by the NMC council in November and was supported by 80% of respondents to a formal consultation held between May and August 2012.
Serious allegations will still have to be dealt with through an NMC public hearing.
Jackie Smith, NMC chief executive and registrar, said the new process would allow the regulator to “fairly and swiftly” manage cases where a nurse or midwife accepted the charges against them.
“This process will encourage nurses and midwives whose fitness to practise is impaired to acknowledge this at an early stage,” she said. “This will reduce the need for witnesses to attend hearings and reduce the length of hearings, enabling us to concentrate our resources on cases where there are significant matters in dispute.
“Consensual panel determination will help us to reduce the overall time it takes to progress a case, enabling us to meet one of our most important objectives of hearing fitness to practise cases in a fair and timely manner,” she added.
The NMC has also introduced a second mechanism for nurses and midwives subject to fitness to practise proceedings that allows them to voluntarily remove their names from the register.
Under the change, a nurse or midwife who admits their fitness to practise is impaired and who does not intend to continue practicing can apply to be permanently removed from the register without a full public hearing.
The NMC has decided voluntary removal will only be allowed in circumstances where there is no public interest in holding a full hearing and where patients are best protected by a clinician’s immediate removal from the register.
It is likely to be available to those who accept they are no longer fit to practise due to a serious or long-term health condition or are near retirement age. If an application is allowed, the status “voluntarily removed” will appear next to the name of the nurse or midwife in the online version of the NMC register.
Ms Smith added: “Voluntary removal ensures that we can take swift action to safeguard patients and the public and will allow fitness to practise cases to progress more efficiently and cost-effectively.”
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Voluntary removal in addition to the introduction of consensual panel determinations will provide more flexibility and allow the NMC to give greater attention to their most serious cases.
“The NMC needs to be as efficient as possible if it is to justify increased registration fees,” he said. “We hope these changes will allow certain cases, where there is no public interest in a full tribunal, to be resolved more quickly.”