The attitude and character of nurses have been given equal weight with their clinical skills in revised fitness to practise guidance.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council guidance on when employers should refer nursing staff to the regulator updates advice issued in 2002, placing more emphasis on the personal traits of nurses.
It says: “It’s possible to deliver care that is clinically competent, but uncaring – attitude and character are just as important as competence.”
Nurses should deliver a service that is “capable, safe, knowledgeable, understanding and completely focused on the needs of the people in their care”.
There is also a new section in the guidance on “bad character” to help employers judge whether a nurse is “the right sort of person to be giving people care”.
Examples of bad character traits, which will nearly always have resulted in a serious legal conviction or fine, include downloading illegal material from the internet.
The guidance also says employers must ensure staff have had access to training courses and should normally deal with issues locally before referring anyone to the regulator.
NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “Our role is not to punish nurses and midwives. Our role is to safeguard the health and wellbeing of the public from nurses and midwives whose fitness to practise is impaired and whose situation cannot be managed locally.
“This new guide will help employers to identify when they should be referring someone to us for investigation and when they should be managing these issues through their own disciplinary procedures,” said Professor Weir-Hughes.