Legal changes to help speed up the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s fitness to practise process and do away with the midwifery supervision system have moved a step closer.
The Department of Health’s has launched a consultation on a number of long awaited changes to the regulator’s legal framework.
“We have been pushing consistently for a more modern legal framework”
If agreed, the new powers will allow the NMC to conclude some cases against nurses and midwives at an earlier stage, while still taking the most serious cases through to a hearing.
For example, the move will give case examiners and investigating committees the power to agree undertakings with registrants at the end of the investigation stage of the fitness to practise process, if it would lead to a “more proportionate resolution of a case”.
They will also gain the power to issue a warning or advice to a registrant at the end of the investigation stage where there is no case to answer but the NMC have some concerns about a registrant’s past practice or conduct.
In addition, the changes will extend the time limit for second reviews of interim orders from three months to six months and remove the mandatory requirement to hold a fitness to practise hearing in the country of the registrant’s home address.
The changes are also designed to modernise midwifery regulation by removing supervision from the NMC’s legislation, in the wake of the Kirkup review into failings at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust.
The regulator said it had been pressing for significant changes to its legislation for several years, describing its existing framework is out of date and costly.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “We are delighted that the government has opened its consultation around changes to our legislation and would encourage anyone interested to respond to it.
“We have been pushing consistently for a more modern legal framework because, as an organisation which is there to protect the public, we know it will make the NMC more efficient and cost effective,” she said.
“We have learnt from the tragic failings at Morecambe Bay”
Launching the consultation, health minister Ben Gummer said: “I want the NHS to be the safest healthcare service in the world and this means making the midwifery and nursing professions as safe as they can be.
“We have learnt from the tragic failings at Morecambe Bay and through this consultation we will be modernising midwifery supervision which means that when things go wrong, lessons can be learnt at a local level,” he said.
He added: “The consultation will also further improve the way the NMC deals with patient safety concerns by making fitness to practise processes more efficient.”
The consultation on the changes will close on 17 June. It is the result of several years of campaigning by the NMC for legal change as well as a council decision in January 2015 to seek the removal of midwifery supervision from its legislation.
DH moves to quicken FtP process and end midwife supervision
Last summer, the health secretary confirmed that the government would make the necessary changes to the legislation governing the regulation of midwives.
Responding to the consultation, parliamentary and health service ombudsman Julie Mellor said: “We are delighted the government has put forward our proposals to separate midwifery regulation and supervision for the safety of mothers and babies.
“This momentous step comes as a result of families making complaints to the ombudsman service about NHS failures,” she said. “We all owe them a debt of gratitude as their actions will help improve maternity services across the country.”
A summary of the DH proposals
- Removal of the midwifery committee, the NMC’s duty to make rules as to midwifery practice and the local supervision of midwives
- Giving case examiners and the investigating committee power to agree undertakings with a registrant at the end of the investigation stage of the fitness to practise process, where otherwise the case would have been referred to a practice committee, if it would lead to a more proportionate resolution of a case
- Giving case examiners and the investigating committee power to issue a warning or advice to a registrant at the end of the investigation stage where there is no case to answer but the NMC have some concerns about a registrant’s past practice or conduct
- Extending the time limit, from three months to six months, for second and subsequent reviews of interim orders
- Removing the mandatory requirement to hold a fitness to practise hearing in the country of the registrant’s registered address
- Enabling the fitness to practise committee, in appropriate cases, to direct the registrar that a suspension order or a conditions of practice order need not be reviewed before its expiry
- Introducing a power to allow the court on an application by the NMC to extend an interim order, or on an application by a registrant to terminate an interim order, to replace an interim suspension order with an interim condition of practice order or vice versa, where appropriate