Health secretary Andrew Lansley has ordered the Nursing and Midwifery Council to “explore all possible options to avoid” the proposed 58% fee increase and commission an independent audit of the proposals.
The NMC claims it needs to increase the annual registrants fee from £76 a year to £120 a year to raise the funds to get on top of its backlog of fitness to practise cases and cope with rising referrals.
However, in its highly critical review of the nursing regulator, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence questioned the assumptions on which the need for the proposed increase was based and criticised the NMC for failing to accurately cost activity. The proposal has been met with near universal opposition from nurses and midwives.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: “At a time of pay restraint it is only right that the Nursing and Midwifery Council explore all possible options to avoid an increase.
“They should be able to justify to their registrants the need for a rise, which is why we have asked them to carry out an independent assessment of their proposals.”
The news was welcomed by the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and Unison.
In a joint statement they said: “We are pleased that the Secretary of State agrees with us that it is difficult to justify a fee increase for registrants, and has intervened in this way. As the unions representing nurses and midwives we welcome the request from the government for the NMC to commission an independent audit of its case for a fee rise.
“We hope to see the terms of reference for the audit as soon as possible, and that those terms will be wide-ranging enough to deliver the change which is needed if the NMC is to be financially sustainable.”
The union statement also called for the 24 August deadline on the NMC’s consultation on the fee rise to be extended to take account of the findings of the audit.
The NMC was due to make a decision on the fee rise at its meeting in September in order that the increase would be introduced from January 2013.
However, the health secretary’s intervention makes it unlikely the regulator will be able to stick to its original timetable anyway.
Nursing Times understands the new chair Mark Addison, who joins in September, is also keen to assure himself that the proposed fee rise is necessary.
The union statement continued: “The NMC is presenting our members with a fee rise of nearly 60%. This is not a situation which the nursing and midwifery professions can tolerate.
“The proposed audit needs to be carried out swiftly and its recommendations taken on board. This is essential for nurses and midwives to have confidence in the NMC as their regulator. It is also key to the organisation moving forward, demonstrating value for money and ensuring its statutory responsibility to protect patients.”