The Nursing and Midwifery Council has launched its consultation on unpopular proposals to increase the annual registration fee.
In response to the start of the listening exercise, unions said the views of nurses “must not be ignored”.
The consultation will look to gather the views of nurses and midwives on a proposed increase in the registration fee from £100 to £120.
“This consultation is an opportunity for all nurses and midwives to have their say”
The exercise will run from 8 May to 31 July. The NMC council will make their final decision on the fee level at their meeting on 1 October.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “This consultation is an opportunity for all nurses and midwives to have their say on the proposed increase to the annual registration fee.
“We are proposing to increase the registration fee by £20 which would enable us to make the much needed improvements we have committed to,” she added.
The NMC began warning in January that its financial situation will be “unsustainable” in future without a further rise in the annual registration fee.
A finance report, presented at the NMC’s January council meeting, shows it expected to end the last financial year with a deficit of £7.3m, which it stated “was unsustainable in future years without a fee rise”.
Last month, the regulator’s leaders subsequently agreed to go ahead with a consultation on a possible registration fee increase, less than two years since the last rise in February 2013.
On that occasion, the regulator had initially attempted to increase the fee from £76 to £120 but it relented and upped the fee to £100, following a £20m grant from the government.
However, the NMC has stated that its financial strategy for the period 2012-16 has always included an allowance for it to revisit an increase to £120 from March 2015.
“NMC simply must not be allowed to continue to ignore the views and feelings of the nursing workforce”
On 1 May a petition calling on the government to review the process the NMC uses to decide its annual registration fee reached a major milestone.
The online petition has now been signed by more than 100,000 people, meaning that under the government’s rules it must be considered as a potential topic for debate by MPs in the Commons.
The petition was started earlier this year by a mental health liaison nurse, who said the views of registrants had been ignored when the NMC attempted to increase the fee in 2012.
The petition states: “The fees were increased two years ago from £76 to £100, following a consultation that was overwhelmingly against the rise.”
Unison responded to the consultation launch by saying the plans to raise fees by 20% should be “dropped right now”, branding the proposed increase as “unfair and disproportionate”.
The union is calling for a parliamentary debate on the proposal to be a priority, following news that an online petition exceeded the 100,000 signatures target.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said: “The vast majority [of nurses and midwives] will not be getting a pay rise this year and this is on top of a three-year pay freeze and squeeze.”
“Nurses and midwives simply cannot afford to be held to ransom by this increase”
She said the union would be conducting its own consultation into the issue.
She also noted that less than 1% of nurses had their fitness to practise called into question while the NMC spent 77% of registration fees on managing such investigations.
Ms Adams added: “The rise in fees may also put off many older nurses who retire but who return to work on a part-time basis. Nurses and midwives simply cannot afford to be held to ransom by this increase and the NHS and patients cannot afford to lose so much valuable skill and experience from the service.”
Unison would be working closely with the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives throughout the consultation period.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “When many nurses are struggling to make ends meet, asking them to find 20% more to pay their registration fees is unjust and shows little regard for the financial pressures that nurses up and down the country are experiencing.
“Our members are angry and frustrated that they are being expected to shoulder the NMC’s financial pressures,” he said.
“NMC simply must not be allowed to continue to ignore the views and feelings of the nursing workforce. Our members spoke loud and clear during the last consultation in 2012 – they must not be ignored now,” he added.
Jon Skewes, the Royal College of Midwives’ director for policy, employment relations and communications, said he was “deeply disappointed and dismayed” by the NMC’s plans.
“This is yet another slap in the face to hard-working midwives in the wake of the government’s decision to deny all midwives and NHS staff a fair pay rise, as recommended by the NHS Pay Review Body,” he said.
“Midwives have lost £4,045 a year by not receiving pay increases in line with the cost of living – let alone added extras like a proposed increased membership fees by the regulator.”