A London mental health trust that may have uncovered a potential legal minefield over lapsed registrations has warned its nurses that they could in future have their pay docked if they fail to renew their registration on time.
As part of a new drive to improve the quality of its nursing, Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust recently introduced a monthly nurse registration monitoring system. This may have revealed a common – but seemingly unaddressed – problem in nursing that may mean hundreds if not thousands of nurses up and down the country are practising illegally at any one time.
The trust’s chief executive, Claire Murdoch, herself a qualified mental health nurse, said the trust’s new system was identifying up to eight nurses a month who had failed to ensure that they were still registered with the NMC. It is illegal for nurses to continue practising without up-to-date registration.
She told Nursing Times that in future any nurse who had allowed their registration to lapse would be paid at the level of a healthcare assistant and would face demotion in terms of duties and tasks.
‘If nurses don’t keep up their registration they can leave themselves and their organisation vulnerable, this is about protecting patients and the status of the profession,’ she said.
RCN policy adviser Howard Catton said that NHS trusts needed to aware of the implications if a nurse was not registered and made an error in practice.
‘If a nurse fouls up and that leads to a negligence claim, and it transpires that the nurse was not registered, that is a significant issue for the trust. Trusts do need to have a system in place to monitor up-to-date registration,’ he said.
Nursing Times understands that nurses failing to re-register on time is a problem throughout the NHS.
Janice Sigsworth, director of nursing at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, admitted that at any one time the trust had a ‘handful’ of nurses whose registration had lapsed.
‘We have a system of monitoring so that if they have not re-registered our system generates an alert, which our senior nurses will then follow up. If we find that a nurse who has not re-registered is still practising then they will stop and work as a non-registered nurse below band 5,’ she said.
However, Ms Sigsworth said that if a nurse had let her registration lapse because of ‘exceptional circumstances’ they would be ‘shown some leniency’. ‘Nurse managers need to take this issue seriously and individual nurses themselves need to be accountable,’ she added.
An NMC spokesperson said that all nurses were sent a ‘renewal pack’ 45 days before their re-registration was due as well as two further reminders.
‘On the day their registration expires they should not be practising but there is a three-month window within which they can re-register, after that they have to go though the validation process again,’ he said.
He added that nurses who continued to practise when they were no longer registered could ‘technically’ be subject to disciplinary proceedings.
Director of nursing at Unison Gail Adams said that she was ‘sympathetic’ to trusts who decided to dock nurses’ pay if they had not re-registered.
‘Nurses have a duty to maintain their professionalism and if they let their NMC registration lapse they are technically not a nurse. We as nurses have to take responsibility for ourselves, we would not let our car insurance slip so why our professional registration?’ she said.
‘I would say ignore it at your peril, nurses do need to be vigilant and organised about their registration,’ she added.
Should nurses be paid as HCAs if they fail to re-register on time?