The Nursing and Midwifery Council has bought in external auditors to examine the business case for its proposed fee rise, Nursing Times has learnt.
Council members will consider the audit report from KPMG at their next meeting this week, before voting on whether to press ahead with the planned 58% hike in the registration fee.
They will also decide at the meeting whether to accept the government’s offer of a one-off £20m grant, which was announced by ministers last week. But even if the council accepts the grant, some level of fee increase would still be needed to balance the NMC’s books.
The regulator had previously insisted the business case for the fee rise was sound and refused to bring in external auditors, despite two written requests to do so from former health secretary Andrew Lansley and repeated calls from unions.
An NMC spokeswoman insisted the decision to bring in the auditors after all was not a “U-turn”. She said: “KPMG have reviewed our assumptions on which the business case for fees was made.
“The independent reviews should give assurance to council as to the robustness and appropriateness of the activity and financial projections upon which they are being asked to make a decision.”
The NMC claims the fee rise is needed to cope with a 47% increase in fitness to practise referrals since 2009-10, and a predicted further spike in referrals when the public inquiry into care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust reports next year.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton welcomed the decision to carry out the audit. He said: “This is something we have been calling for. Registrants need to be reassured and have confidence that if there is a fee rise, it’s based on expert advice.”
The regulator’s original refusal to carry out the audit was seen as an attempt to assert its independence from government.
In July the council expressed “grave concern” when the government intervened in the recruitment of a new NMC chair. Ministers advised the Privy Council to appoint experienced civil servant Mark Addison, rather than allow the regulator to continue its own recruitment process.
KPMG also carried out audit at the NMC in March, which focused on its financial position. The audit report, obtained by Nursing Times under the Freedom of Information Act, questioned a number of assumptions about the cost and length of hearings on which the 2012-13 budget was based.
It found an assumption that it would be cheaper to bring investigations back in house was not based on a “substantive cost-benefit analysis” and discovered the NMC had budgeted for only 310 investigations between April and June this year, when it would in fact need to carry out 650.
Appearing before the Commons health select committee last week, Mr Addison told MPs that he did not expect it the results of the new review to contradict the NMC’s fitness to practise assumptions.
Asked whether the NMC would accept the government’s grant, he said it was decision for the council.
He added the regulator would “want a clear set of time limited outcomes to be judged against in return for the £20m”, so that the government’s involvement had a clear end point.
“We do not want to find ourselves in hock to the government,” he said.
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