Increasing the registration fee could damage efforts to retain highly skilled nursing staff to the NHS at a time when the service is facing a major staffing shortage, unions have warned.
Nurses and midwives are “very angry” at the plans to increase the registration fee from £100 to £120, especially when they are also faced with government efforts to hold down pay, union leaders said last week.
A three-month consultation on the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s unpopular plans to up the fee closed on 31 July. The NMC council will consider the outcome of the consultation at its meeting in October and, if agreed, could seek to introduce the fee rise from February 2015.
“The NHS and patients cannot afford to lose so much valuable skill and experience from the service”
The regulator first attempted to increase the annual registration fee to £120 in 2012. But following a one-off £20m government grant, the NMC instead upped the fee to £100 for two years in February 2013.
However, the NMC’s long-term financial strategy allowed for it to revisit an increase to £120 from March 2015, which it is currently doing less than two years after the last increase.
In February, the NMC warned that its financial situation would be “unsustainable” in future without a further rise in the annual registration fee.
In their responses to the consultation, both submitted last week, Unison and the Royal College of Nursing called on the NMC to find other ways to balance its books rather than passing on its funding problems to registrants.
As part of its 21-page submission to the consultation (see PDF, top-right), Unison included results from a survey of 1,251 registrants, in which 99% said they opposed the proposed fee increase.
“To be proposing yet another fee rise when hardworking nurses and midwives are still reeling from the government’s decision to deny most of them a pay rise is unacceptable”
It called on the nursing regulator to review costly fitness to practise referrals to ensure they were appropriate. It noted that only 0.6% of registrants ever had their fitness to practise questioned.
The survey also asked whether increasing the fee would affect decisions to return to work part-time among staff retiring at 55. It found 50.8% of respondents believed it would not be economical to return to practise after retirement if the NMC fee rose.
Gail Adams, Unison head of nursing, said: “A fees rise would have a damaging impact on older nurses and midwives by affecting their decision to return to work on reduced hours. The NHS and patients cannot afford to lose so much valuable skill and experience from the service.”
The Royal College of Midwives also stressed that it had concerns that a fee rise will act as a disincentive to midwives joining and remaining on the NMC register.
Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the RCM, said: “Our members are rightly angry at this proposed fee rise. They feel that they are paying for the past failures of the NMC and for a small number of registrants who are coming before fitness to practise hearings.”
Meanwhile, the RCN outlined its concerns in a letter to the nursing regulator. RCN chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter called on the NMC to look for “alternative funding options” and for ministers to step in with another grant.
He said: “To be proposing yet another fee rise when hardworking nurses and midwives are still reeling from the government’s decision to deny most of them a pay rise is unacceptable.”
An NMC spokeswoman said it “welcomed” the responses from the RCN and Unison. However, she rejected Unison’s call for a reduction in the number of fitness to practise hearings.
“Any reduction in the number of hearings we hold will lead to cases taking longer to conclude. This would not be in the best interests of the public or nurses and midwives,” she said.
Meanwhile, on Monday, Unite claimed the fee rise proposals were “grotesque”.
Unite professional officer Jane Beach said its policy was that there should be a moratorium on any fee hike until at least March 2016 – and even then, any increase should be linked to the annual pay rise for NHS staff.
She said: “The proposed NMC fee rise of 20% is misguided in the extreme and it will cause increased financial hardship to already struggling hardworking professionals.
“A survey undertaken with our NMC registered members highlighted their strength of feeling against yet another fee hike by an overwhelming majority of 98%,” she added.
- A petition calling on the government to review the process the NMC uses to decide its annual registration fee has been signed by nearly 105,000 people, meaning it must be considered as a potential topic for debate by MPs in the Commons.