Directors of nursing who fail to ensure their hospitals have adequate numbers of nurses could find themselves facing fitness to practise panels, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has warned.
Jackie Smith, NMC chief executive and registrar, highlighted the decision last week to issue a five year caution to Jan Harry, the former chief nurse of Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
Ms Harry was found guilty by a fitness to practise panel of putting patients in danger by failing to ensure there were enough nurses on wards at the scandal hit hospital between 1998 and 2006.
The panel concluded Ms Harry’s catalogue of failings amounted to misconduct and that her fitness to practise was impaired. They imposed a maximum five year caution “in order to mark your conduct as unacceptable and signal that this must not be repeated”.
Ms Smith told Nursing Times it was a “distinct possibility” that other nursing directors could face fitness to practise panels if they failed to ensure there were adequate numbers of nurses “to protect patients”.
She said: “There is a marker here. What the panel said was that it was her responsibility to ensure adequate nursing provision. The panel decided her practice fell well short of what was expected.”
Ms Smith said the NMC expected directors of nursing and those in leadership roles to already be doing what was needed, adding: “This is about protecting patient safety.”
Ms Harry had argued in her evidence to the panel that her role was purely strategic and not operational.
But the panel said nursing directors could not separate the two roles and the public had the right to expect a director of nursing to prioritise the provision of quality “frontline” nursing services.
It ruled against striking her off the register because no patients had been directly harmed by her personally and noted her “long, distinguished and otherwise unblemished” career.
Earlier this year an investigating committee for the NMC ruled Ms Harry’s successor Helen Moss had “no case to answer” and did not refer her to a fitness to practise panel. Ms Moss taking over as chief nurse in 2006.
In his report on the care failings at the trust, Robert Francis QC said there was no sense of urgency and an “unacceptable delay” in addressing the issues when Ms Moss arrived.
From next year the NMC will have new legal powers to re-consider the decisions made by the investigating committees.
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