The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to get new powers designed to speed up the fitness to practise process in the wake of the Mid Staffordshire scandal, it has been announced.
Prime minster David Cameron promised to reform the NMC when he responded to the publication of the Francis report into care failings at the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust in February. He demanded to know why at that point no nurses from the trust had been struck off.
Only one registrant who worked at the West Midlands trust has since been removed from the register while 11 out of 15 cases where the NMC found there was a case to answer are still ongoing, four years after the scandal first broke.
Mr Cameron asked the Law Commission to review the NMC’s “outdated and inflexible” decision making processes. However, there were concerns any recommendations could take up to four years to implement.
In a letter to Labour MP John Healey, seen by Nursing Times, health secretary Jeremy Hunt confirms the changes will be bought forward.
“In light of the recommendations in the Francis inquiry, the government felt that it was advisable to proceed quickly,” he wrote.
The changes are now expected to come into force in a year’s time. They will mean investigating committees, who examine initial allegations to decide if there is a case to answer, will be replaced with case examiners employed directly by the NMC while the regulator will also be able to review these initial decisions.
The changes will bring the NMC’s procedures in line with other professional regulators such as the General Medical Council.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said in principle the new powers were a “positive move” but more detail was needed about how the proposals would work in practice.
Nursing Times understands a case will be reviewed by two case examiners to ensure decisions are consistent. A decision has not yet been made on whether one of the case examiners must be a registrant. However, that is the model used by the GMC and Nursing Times understands the NMC believes there are advantages to this system.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith welcomed the move.
She said: “We at the NMC are ten years behind in how we can investigate concerns about the fitness to practise of nurses and midwives because of our outdated legal framework. The prime minister is delivering on his promise of reform, made when the Francis report was published.”