The Nursing and Midwifery Council has abandoned its search for a new chief executive and registrar due to the lack of a “competitive field of candidates”.
As a stopgap measure, the regulator has appointed its current acting chief executive, Jackie Smith, on a “substantive” basis for a year and plans to begin a new appointment process next year.
Ms Smith, formerly the NMC’s head of fitness to practise, had been acting chief executive since the sudden resignation of the previous permanent incumbent Dickon Weir-Hughes in January.
Recruitment for a permanent replacement for Professor Weir-Hughes began back in May, but was initially delayed while a new chair was appointed. Mark Addison took up the role last month and has decided to abandon the current process and start again in 2013.
By then a decision will have been taken on whether the NMC will go ahead with its proposed 58% fee hike.
Mr Addison said the regulator was “going through a challenging time” following recent criticism from the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
He said: “It is important that we have a competitive field of candidates for the key chief executive post from which to choose. In the run up to interview it was clear this condition was no longer met.
“I am delighted however that Jackie Smith, who has been the acting chief executive since January 2012, and who has helped put the organisation firmly on the path to improvement, has agreed to accept a one year appointment as our substantive chief executive.”
He added: “That will help the council move forward and provide us with a stable top team through a critical period. A new appointment process will be started next year.”
The halting of the search for a new permanent chief executive is the second time this year that the regulator has run into trouble trying to fill key leadership posts.
It experienced similar problems with the process of finding a new chair to replace Tony Hazell, following his resignation in March. The Appointments Commission, which had been leading the search for a replacement, withdrew from the process in July.
Mr Addison, an experienced civil servant, was subsequently appointed NMC chair by the Privy Council in July, based on the advice of the Department of Health.
However, the involvement of the DH sparked criticism from inside and outside the regulator that it was having the appointment of Mr Addison imposed on it.
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams welcomed the extension of Ms Smith’s tenure, who she said the union had built up a good working relationship with.
She said: “Jackie Smith’s appointment will deliver much needed stability after a very difficult period.
“Nurses and patients need to have confidence that the NMC is working effectively and I believe that the changes that Jackie has already introduced are a good start.
“The NMC currently faces a number of challenges and we look forward to working with Ms Smith to help put the organisation on a more stable and effective footing, for the benefit of registrants and patients.”
However, Ms Adams reiterated her opposition to the NMC’s proposed fee hike.
A final decision on whether to go ahead with the controversial increase is expected later this month.
Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter wished Ms Smith well as chief executive for the next year and said the college was committed to working with the NMC on some of the issues it was facing.
“There are clearly a number of significant challenges, as identified in the recent CHRE report, that the NMC needs to address and we know that Ms Smith has started to tackle some of these while she was acting in the position,” he said.
“However, nurses remain hugely concerned about the proposed hike in NMC fees at a time when many are struggling financially,” he added.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “‘The RCM welcomes the continuation of Jackie Smith as chief executive of the NMC in a substantive post for another year. These are difficult times for the organisation and we can see the logic of this appointment until the future direction of the organisation is clearer.
“This is not to deny that there are challenges for midwifery at the NMC but the RCM is in constructive discussion with the leadership team about these and, believes that continuity of the leadership at this time will be helpful. The RCM will continue to give Jackie Smith its full support.”