Nursing and Midwifery Council leaders have agreed to go ahead with a consultation on a possible registration fee increase.
In a widely expected move, the NMC council’s latest meeting, held today in London, has decided in favour of consulting on increasing the annual fee for registrants from £100 to £120.
The consultation will run from May to July, with the NMC council considering the outcome in October. If agreed, the NMC would then seek to introduce the fee rise from February 2015.
Nursing Times understands that no council members opposed the move during the discussion on it at today’s meeting.
In a statement issued after the meeting, the NMC said: “We fully appreciate that the possibility of a fee increase comes at a bad time for nurses and midwives.
“It is in the interests of nurses and midwives that their regulator has the appropriate resources needed to take swift and fair action against those who fall short of the high standards expected of the professions,” the regulator stated. “The fee is our principle source of income and without sufficient funds we won’t be able to adequately protect the public.”
It added: “The consultation date will be announced in due course and the Council will make its decision on the registration fee at their meeting on 1 October.”
“We fully appreciate that the possibility of a fee increase comes at a bad time for nurses and midwives”
Warnings that the regulator might be seeking another fee rise were sparked at its last council meeting in January.
A finance report said it was expecting to end the 2013-14 with a deficit of £7.3m, which it stated “was unsustainable in future years without a fee rise”.
The consultation is an almost inevitable consequence of the NMC’s ongoing struggles to balance its books. In 2012 it attempted to increase the registration fee from £76 to £120.
But, following a £20m government grant, the regulator opted to increase it to £100 in February 2013 for two years.
However, the regulator’s long-term financial strategy for the period 2012-16 has always allowed for a further increase in March 2015 to £120, which would add £8.2m in 2015-16.
A petition calling on the government to review the process through which the NMC decides its annual registration fee has now been signed by over 95,000 people.
“There is no justification in the NMC raising registration fees for midwives and nurses by a massive 20%”
Unison head of nursing Gail Adams, who was present at the council meeting as an observer, said: “There is no justification in the NMC raising registration fees for midwives and nurses by a massive 20%.”
“This proposed increase is disproportionate and adds insult to injury,” she added. “It follows the government’s recent decision to deny a pay increase to 70% of nursing staff this year, with a meagre 1% to the rest. This decision by the NMC means a further pay cut for nurses and midwives.”
Speaking at the meeting today, she called on the NMC to “think again” and argued that it should consider the impact such a large fees rise would have on registrants.
While recognising the regulator’s statutory responsibility to public protection, Ms Adams said it was of little benefit if the impact of its decision was nurses and midwives “voting with their feet and leaving the profession”. She claimed this was a “very real risk” if the fee rise was carried through.
The union said it was calling for an urgent meeting between NMC chair Mark Addison, chief executive Jackie Smith and the Department of Health, because “technically the NMC is still in special measures”.
Unions said they would also be requesting an urgent meeting about the potential fee rise with the minister responsible, Dr Dan Poulter, as soon as possible.
“This is a sign of some serious financial mismanagement and nurses should not be bearing the brunt”
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “Many nursing staff will rightly be sceptical that this consultation will end in anything other than approval for the unfair rise.
“It is important that nursing has an effective regulator, and this is in the best interests of nurses as well as patients. However, the NMC simply cannot expect to use hard working nurses as a quick-fix for its ongoing financial problems,” Dr Carter said.
“When an organisation which has a guaranteed source of income demands a 60% increase in fees over two years this is a sign of some serious financial mismanagement and nurses should not be bearing the brunt of that,” he added.
Meanwhile, Royal College of Midwives chief executive Professor Cathy Warwick said: “We are very disappointed to see this proposal by the NMC.
“We are extremely concerned about the impact that any fee rise, far less one of this magnitude, will have on our cash-strapped members,” she said.
“It just seems like one hurdle after another for midwives”
Professor Warwick added: “This rise is required, largely, to fund fitness to practise proceedings and ensure the government imposed targets around this NMC function are met.
“The majority of midwives never come before an NMC fitness to practise panel, but they still have to bear the brunt of this fee increase. It just seems like one hurdle after another for midwives.”
“The RCM believes that the government should relax the targets it has placed on the NMC and allow the regulator to work within its existing fee structure, rather than demanding that midwives dig deep into their pockets for money they simply don’t have,” she said.