The nursing and midwifery regulator has outlined a range of measures designed to improve the way it interacts with patients and the public, in response to severe criticism over the way it treated bereaved families involved in two major care scandals.
Proposals due to be considered by the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s governing body include new “needs assessments” for people who make fitness to practise (FtP) referrals and heightened scrutiny of the way the regulator handles FtP cases and complaints.
“We’re absolutely committed to learning the lessons of the past”
The NMC has been forced to completely overhaul its approach in the light of the Lessons Learned Review into the way it handled FtP cases linked to the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal.
This found the regulator had dismissed credible concerns – potentially putting the lives of mothers and babies at risk – and treated families with a lack of respect.
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In drawing up plans for change the NMC has also taken into account the findings of an independent inquiry into hundreds of deaths at Gosport War Memorial Hospital, which again found it had ignored concerns and criticised the lack of communication with families affected.
Plans due to be discussed at the July meeting of the NMC Council promise the regulator will strive to be more empathetic and adopt “a new tone of voice” in all communication as well as being upfront and honest when things go wrong.
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As part of a new overall approach to FtP, the body has also pledged to take a more “person-centred” approach when dealing with everyone involved, including those facing misconduct allegations.
Central to efforts to improve the way the body relates to people involved in FtP cases is the establishment of a new Public Support Service.
The NMC has already appointed a head of service and is now recruiting to the core public support team – a process expected to be completed by September.
A steering group that will include patient groups is being set up to guide the creation and delivery of the new service.
“We will review all our correspondence and letters to make sure they are clear, empathetic and offer the right level of support”
NMC council report
Meanwhile, a network of 55 “public support champions” from the body’s FtP directorate will be trained up from next month.
The body also pledged to improve its day to day communication, acknowledging letters it sent to bereaved families from Morecambe Bay were “cold and unhelpful” and couched in “bureaucratic and legalistic” terms.
“At pace, we will review all our correspondence and letters to make sure they are clear, empathetic and offer the right level of support,” said the council report. “We have begun work on a new ‘tone of voice’ which will help shape all our communication across the NMC.”
Other proposals to be put before the NMC council on 25 July include “tailored needs assessments” for members of the public who make referrals, due to be introduced from next month.
“The needs assessment will ensure that we are listening to and addressing each individual person’s needs and concerns and it will drive improved communication throughout the case lifecycle,” said the report.
FtP staff will get training in identifying vulnerable people and supporting them, says the document.
The proposals also include trialling a new system where the NMC offers to meet people who make referrals at the start and end of an investigation with a year-long pilot expected to start in October.
This will come alongside a new approach to handling enquiries, requests for information and complaints designed to ensure these are handled swiftly and appropriately and complaints are thoroughly investigated.
This will include exploring options for an independent party to review the NMC’s handling of complaints – where the person who has complained is not satisfied that the issue has been addressed.
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The papers also show the NMC is exploring the scope for more independent scrutiny of FtP work in general to provide greater assurance “that these events will never happen again”.
Philip Graf, chair of the NMC council, said the body was determined to learn from its mistakes and pledged patients and families would be “at the heart of what we do” going forward.
“The mistakes of the past should never have happened and no apology will ever be enough for the families we so badly let down,” he said. “But we’re absolutely committed to learning the lessons of the past and ensuring that no other families have to go through the same experience again.”
“While we can never alter the past, I hope this work goes some way to showing all those who lost loved ones or were affected by the tragic events at Morecambe Bay how seriously we take this report and that change is our number one priority,” he added.
As well as improving the way engages with patients and the public the NMC is also seeking to improve the FtP process for registrants, including making it less adversarial and reducing the need for formal hearings.
Proposals for a new FtP strategy will also be put before the NMC council at the July meeting.