The Nursing and Midwifery Council has made improvements in its performance over the last year but the progress “remains fragile”, according to the Commons health select committee.
The MPs warned it was important to ensure the new challenges facing the NMC did not distract it from the continuing need to improve performance in its core functions.
The length of time the NMC takes to conclude its fitness to practise cases has been an enduring concern, the committee said in its first report on the professional regulator.
The MPs said they were disappointed the number of cases over two years old had only fallen from 572 to 428, and it was a matter of concern that the number of “very old cases remains stubbornly high”.
The committee said it welcomed the NMC’s proposal to toughen the target period for resolving cases to 15 months from 2015, and eventually to 12 months.
The MPs also said they would seek an update from the NMC at the end of March on its plans for introducing a system of revalidation by the end of 2015.
However, the committee urged the NMC to take “urgent steps” to raise its profile among both registrants and the public, as recommended by the Francis report into the failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
While the MPs noted that monitoring staffing levels was not the direct responsibility of the NMC, the MPs said the regulator “must make it clear” to registrants with concerns that they have a professional obligation to raise them in an appropriate manner.
Health committee chair Stephen Dorrell said: “The NMC has had a troubled recent history, and while we welcome the evidence that there has been an improvement in its performance, it is essential that the new challenges it now faces do not cause the NMC to take its eye off the ball.”
Stephen Dorrell MP
He added: “Following the publication of the Francis report, all aspects of healthcare are facing increasing scrutiny; the pressure is therefore on for the NMC to demonstrate to an increasingly sceptical public that it can function effectively to underwrite clinical standards.”
The committee will review the progress made by the NMC with its plans for revalidation during spring 2014 and a conduct a further full review in autumn 2014.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “The government’s commitment to modernise our legal framework will allow us to further reduce our target to complete the majority of our fitness to practise cases to 12 months. With the necessary changes, we believe we can deliver a better performance of this core function.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “The government’s commitment to modernise our legal framework will allow us to further reduce our target to complete the majority of our fitness to practise cases to 12 months.
“With the necessary changes, we believe we can deliver a better performance of this core function,” she said. “We are committed to making sure the public are protected through the way we regulate nurses and midwives.”
Are you able to Speak Out Safely? Sign our petition to put pressure on your trust to support an open and transparent NHS.