It’s not that I don’t like the NMC. That in itself would be petty and irrelevant. I mean I don’t like knife crime, Liverpool Football Club or TV talent shows. Who cares?
And it’s not that I don’t acknowledge that we need the NMC - or something like it. A healthcare profession needs a regulatory body. Of course it does; it’s a horse and carriage kind of thing.
And it’s not even that I notice the NMC all that often. I mean they’re there in the background, a bit like a fading bruise. It twinges now and again but in the main you ignore it and get on with stuff.
It’s just that I’m not always sure what good they do. The striking off of ‘whistleblowing nurse’ Margaret Haywood for failing to gain the consent of her patients before secretly filming them to highlight profound failures of care isn’t a test of the NMC’s logic. But it may prove to be a test of its credibility.
The interesting thing about the Panorama case is that everyone involved can legitimately claim to be doing the ‘right thing’. The BBC can label themselves as ‘investigative reporters’ exposing poor services. The nurse involved can claim to be protecting patients by exposing low standards of care. And the NMC can claim to be protecting patients by adhering to the core principles of patient confidentiality.
‘The striking off of “whistleblowing nurse” Margaret Haywood isn’t a test of the NMC’s logic. But it may prove to be a test of its credibility’
Everyone can claim right is on their side. It is a festival of moral rectitude. Yet how much good is being done in the wake of the programme and the investigation? And why isn’t everyone simply asking: ‘What needs to happen to make things better?’
Because surely that is the collective responsibility facing not only nursing but also the NMC - to quite simply stop bad things from happening and to construct something useful and progressive from instances of failure. And it is hard to see how making the exposure of poor standards more difficult achieves that.
The NMC comments that it did not strike Ms Haywood off for ‘whistleblowing’ and in so doing it chooses not to engage with the complexities of whisteblowing. How, one wonders, might that protect the public in the future? Is that a responsible position? Or is it essentially a way of wiping one’s hands of the underpinning issues and ‘getting on with the job’?
Couldn’t it simply have done better? The NMC had a chance to demonstrate itself as being capable of not only thinking about the moral complexities that face some nurses but also of trying to intelligently address them. Instead it chose the easy route and in so doing looked to be a simple bureaucracy rather than a force for good.
And of course we can see how it did it. The line on confidentiality is clear. It can sleep easy and refer us all to the regulations. But is that good enough? If nursing charges itself with the responsibility to deliver the best care possible in sometimes challenging circumstances, is the NMC able to support that ambition? And if it isn’t shouldn’t we have a regulatory body that is?