The head of a new super regulator has told Nursing Times it will not consult nurses it is considering barring from practice until it has already decided they pose a potential risk to patients.
The Independent Safeguarding Authority was set up to improve the identification of people who should not be working children and vulnerable adults, but unions have criticised it for being heavy handed.
Under its new vetting and barring scheme, which came into force for NHS staff in October, employers will refer to the ISA any staff they fear could pose a risk. The ISA will carry out an investigation, without speaking to the person concerned, and then write to anyone it is “minded to bar”, explaining the decision and setting out the next stages.
As a result it will decide whether it is “minded to bar” nurses referred to it before they have had a chance to put their case forward.
ISA chief executive Adrian McAllister argued that it was unnecessary to alert nurses to the fact they were being investigated. He told Nursing Times: “There would be little point in putting them in that position before we were thinking about barring them. In the vast majority of cases we don’t bar people.”
But Unison head of nursing Gail Adams said the potentially huge impact of an ISA ruling on someone’s career meant nurses should have a say earlier in the process.
She said: “If we look at it in the employment context, [there is normally] a general investigation before…a judgement. The difference is that the ISA can stop people working in a significant number of jobs, potentially precluding them from ever working in the public service.”
She said there were a number of problems with the system that still need to be “ironed out”, but discussions with the ISA had been “positive”.
Mr McAllister also confirmed that ISA would be able to overrule fitness to practise decisions by the Nursing and Midwifery Council and the body that oversees all health regulators, the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence.
This could mean nurses being cleared of any wrongdoing by the NMC or CHRE but then barred by the ISA. Mr McAllister said: “There could be circumstances like that. These are going to be relatively few in number.”