Hundreds of nurses and midwives may have let their registration lapse accidentally because the Nursing and Midwifery Council failed to send out a final reminder.
The problem was revealed today in the latest annual performance report on the nursing regulator that shows many nurses then had to wait up to a month or more to re-register.
“This year we received a number of concerns from individuals and third-party organisations”
It occurred in the wake of changes to the annual renewal process in November 2015, which saw nurses and midwives who failed to pay their fee on time automatically removed from the register and required to submit a completely new application.
Previously, there had been a grace period where registrants could quickly get back on the register without submitting a full application by simply paying the outstanding fee.
However, today’s report from the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA) suggests many may have fallen foul of the new system, because a final reminder email was not sent.
“This year we received a number of concerns from individuals and third-party organisations about the number of registrants lapsing unintentionally following this change and the time taken to get back on the register,” said the PSA report on the NMC’s performance during 2016-17.
“Some of those raising concerns referred to an error on the part of the NMC in September 2016, whereby a second and final reminder to registrants to pay their renewal fee was not sent,” it said.
“The error was not detected until the end of September, by which time a number of registrants were reported to have unintentionally lapsed from the register,” said the report.
“A number of registrants were reported to have unintentionally lapsed from the register”
Data supplied by the NMC shows that the registrations of more than 2,000 nurses and midwives lapsed in September 2016 – more than in any other month in 2016-17.
In that September, 273 nurses and midwives applied for readmission but the following month there was a spike in numbers with 1,813 re-applying to join the register.
The second highest number of lapsed applications was seen in November 2016 at more than 1,700, with 828 applying to re-join.
As a result, the data shows the average time taken to process re-applications in that November shot up to 28 days.
The failure to send out a second reminder email also appears to be linked email to a fall in satisfaction levels among nurses and midwives who had dealings with the NMC, said the report.
Among those who completed a customer service survey, the proportion rating their experience as “good” or “very good” dropped in September and October 2016 alongside the proportion reporting their query had been resolved.
However, the PSA concluded there was not enough evidence to prove the missing email had led to a swathe of unintentional de-registrations.
“In the absence of more sophisticated data, it is difficult to reach a conclusion on the impact of the NMC’s failure to send registrants a second reminder to renew their registration in September 2016,” said the report.
“It is difficult to reach a conclusion on the impact of the NMC’s failure to send registrants a second reminder”
It pointed out the data did not show how many applying for re-admission had only very recently lapsed – a sign it could have been unintentional.
Meanwhile, September is generally the NMC’s busiest time for renewals, said the PSA, which also stressed that it was the responsibility of registrants to “ensure they remain on the register by paying fees on time”.
Since the error occurred, the NMC has changed to system of automated reminders and the PSA also welcomed plans to gather more detailed data to help assess the level of unintentional lapses in the future.
Meanwhile, it found the NMC had taken steps including working with nursing organisations, producing posters for employers and a making a short animation as part of efforts to remind nurses to renew their registration on time.
“The failure to send a renewal reminder to registrants in September 2016 should not be repeated as the process is now automated,” stated the PSA’s report.
It said: “The NMC has worked with bodies representing registrants and has taken action to limit the number of registrants unintentionally lapsing their registration as far as possible.
“We concluded this matter should be monitored by the NMC but that it was not a cause for significant concern,” it added.