The number of fitness to practise concerns raised with the Nursing and Midwifery Council has continued to increase, with a 4.5% jump in referrals in the past year, the regulator’s annual performance review has revealed.
In 2015-16, there were 5,415 more referrals than the previous year, continuing an upward trend since 2011, although the jump was not as great as it has been in the past.
“This year we have made some significant improvements to our fitness to practise processes”
In addition, the number of new cases opened by the NMC has also increased, up by 350 more than last year.
Similarly to previous years, the biggest proportion of referrals (41%) came from employers in 2015-16, and the second largest (25%) from patients.
In its annual report on its fitness to practise work in the past financial year, published this week, the NMC noted that it had managed to close far more cases at an earlier stage due to changes it introduced to decision-making processes during the year.
In March 2015, case examiners were introduced by the NMC to review investigations and assess whether registrants should be passed on to a full hearing panel.
In 2015–16, a total of 2,665 cases were closed at this initial assessment stage – meaning about half of all referrals that year were closed overall – compared with only 38% of cases being closed in 2014-15.
The NMC also continued to exceed its target of imposing interim orders within 28 days in 80% of cases, and also completed 78% of cases within 15 months of referral, above its target of 65%.
However, despite some progress, the NMC said 2016-17 would be a “key year” for making further changes in order to transform the way it worked across the entire organisation.
“The introduction of revalidation has been overwhelmingly positive… we continue to receive extremely positive feedback”
This included plans to extend its “employer link service” to independent and private sector employers. The service was introduced in September 2015 to advise NHS employers and health boards across the UK about the kinds of concerns that warrant referral to the NMC.
Next year the NMC said it would also begin to analyse what type of registrant different referrals were in relation to, adding that it had already begun to collect data about which employment settings saw certain types of allegations being made.
Despite having made progress in closing cases at earlier stages, the NMC said it also hoped to see further legislative changes this year that would speed up fitness to precise decisions even more, noting that a consultation has been launched this week.
Meanwhile, the NMC’s annual report on activity and finances, which was also published this week, stated that the regulator’s new system of ensuring nurses and midwives were up to date in their practice – revalidation – was “already proving a success”.
“The enthusiastic and positive reception given to revalidation is a credit to the professions who, along with the chief nursing officers in the four countries, employers and other partners have been instrumental in helping us deliver a model which is transparent, proportionate and adds to public protection,” said the NMC’s report.
“We will build on the important achievements of this year, while continuing to advocate for crucial changes to our regulatory framework”
In its analysis of new applications to the register, the NMC noted it had exceeded its target of completing 95% within 10 days.
However, it failed to meet its target for processing 90% of overseas nurse and midwife applications within 70 days due to the surge in submissions following the government’s decision to add nurses to the shortage occupation list in 2015, which made it easier to recruit from outside Europe.
This was in addition to a “significant increase” in applications from European nurses ahead of new language controls being brought in by the NMC, said the report, which noted it only processed 85% of all overseas applications within 70 days.
The regulator’s income increased to £80.3m in 2015-16 from £73.2m in 2014-15, largely due to the increase to registrants’ annual fee, from £100 to £120, that was brought in from February 2015.
In 2015-16 all NMC staff’s pay was increased by 1%. In addition, performance-related bonuses totalling £24,815 were given to members of the executive team including the chief executive, director of registration and director of fitness to practise, for work carried out in the previous year.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said the report showed it had been a successful year for the NMC.
Nt editorial jackie smith
“The introduction of revalidation has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “Tens of thousands of nurses and midwives have revalidated so far and we continue to receive extremely positive feedback on the process.
“This year we have made some significant improvements to our fitness to practise processes, including the introduction of case examiners, which has led to an increase in the number of decisions we have made after the full investigation,” she said.
“In addition, we have also launched our employer link service, enabling us to better develop strong relationships with employers of nurses and midwives, helping to ensure that we receive the right fitness to practise referrals at the right time,” she added.
“As an organisation, we will build on the important achievements of this year, while continuing to advocate for crucial changes to our regulatory framework which will allow us to become a more efficient and proportionate regulator which is better equipped to protect the public,” said Ms Smith.