The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s decision to increase the registration fee by almost a third has been condemned by unions, amid concerns the move will have a disproportionate effect on part time staff.
Unison said it would be seeking legal advice on the potential to challenge the decision under equalities legislation, while the Royal College of Midwives also raised concerns about the impact on the 70% of its members who work part time.
At its latest meeting last week, the NMC council voted unanimously to increase the annual fee from £76 to £100 from next February, and potentially to £120 in 2015. However, council members also committed to annually reviewing the fee in future so the £120 figure could potentially be reduced.
The £24 hike is significantly less than the £44 increase originally proposed by the regulator back in May. The offer of a government grant of £20m this month allowed the regulator to reduce the level of the increase in fee.
The NMC has said it needed to raise the fee to deal with the increased cost of its fitness to practise work, with referrals predicted to increase from £28.5m to £42.9m in 2012-13.
Speaking at last week’s meeting, NMC chair Mark Addison said the “key reason” council members had not opted to increase the fee to £120 straight away was a recognition of the “pressures and difficulties” facing registrants. He said: “It’s a decision we take reluctantly but… we feel we have no choice.”
The meeting was told more than 26,000 people responded to the NMC’s consultation on the proposed fee increase. Of these 5% of registrants said they would leave the profession if the fee increased to £120.
Speaking to Nursing Times after the meeting, Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said the union would be looking into challenging the decision on the grounds that it had a disproportionate impact on the 40% of nurses who work part time.
The NMC carried out an equality impact assessment but concluded the fee increase would not “worsen the financial position” of part time workers.
Ms Adams said: “I understand they feel they’re between a rock and a hard place, but I feel there are other options they could have considered.”
Louise Silverton, deputy general secretary of the RCM, told Nursing Times there was concern among its members who worked part-time, often due to caring responsibilities
She said it was “sad” the NMC had decided to go ahead with an increase but welcomed the plans for an annual review of the fee. “The NMC’s suggestion that fees could go down, if predictions aren’t as they expect, is welcome,” she added.
The council also agreed to consider allowing registrants to pay the fee via a monthly direct debit rather than as a lump sum.
The Royal College of Nursing condemned the increase. Chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said the college was “staggered” nurses were being asked to pay for a problem not of their making without any reassurance that the NMC’s “fundamental problems” have been solved.