The Nursing and Midwifery Council has delayed its decision on the proposed fee increase by a month, but has refused a request from former health secretary Andrew Lansley to bring in an external auditor to look at the business case for the hike.
The regulator’s council was due to make a decision on whether to go ahead with the unpopular increase in the annual registration fee at its latest meeting yesterday.
However, acting chief executive Jackie Smith announced that the decision had been postponed to allow for a full analysis of the 26,476 responses submitted to its consultation on the proposal. A decision will now be made at October’s meeting.
It is the latest twist in the saga since the NMC first proposed increasing the fee from £76 to £120 in May.
Presenting the monthly finance report, NMC interim director of resources Paul Hackwell said the regulator’s financial health “depends on the size of [the fee rise] and when it comes”, and the “likelihood” was the increase would come through but would be delayed.
The NMC had originally budgeted for the fee increase to come in in January but is now budgeting for it to be introduced from the end of February.
However, outgoing interim chair Judith Ellis told the council there was still an option not to increase the fee.
She also revealed the NMC had refused Mr Lansley’s request in August for an external audit of the business case for the fee rise.
Like many of the health unions, Mr Lansley was concerned that assumptions on which the business case was based, such as that referrals would rise, were not sound. A report to the board showed referrals to the regulator had been falling since the beginning of 2012, although they were still significantly higher than 2010.
Professor Ellis said: “The business case was sound. We did not agree to do an audit going back.”
Asked whether the DH had agreed to provide any funding to the NMC on either a one off or a regular basis, Professor Ellis said the NMC was “constantly” talking to the DH and there would be more to say at October’s meeting.
Royal College of Midwives deputy general secretary Louise Silverton told Nursing Times it was a “disappointment” the NMC had decided not to go ahead with external audit.
“It would have given more assurance to registrants that they have looked at it in detail. We have seen today that referrals are going down and the increase is based on referrals going up.”
Stephen Iwasyk, a mental health nurse who started a petition against the fee increase, attended the meeting and told the council most nurses felt “distant” from the NMC.
He said: “We’re plodding along and someone says we’re taking this money off you, the good ones, to pay for the bad ones and we don’t feel as if we matter.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “This is a decision for the Nursing and Midwifery Council, as an independent body. We have publicly made it clear to all the health regulators that we would not expect to see rises in registration fees except where it is essential to fulfil their statutory duties.”