Legislation changes that include removing the legal requirement for midwives to have a supervisor, and giving the Nursing and Midwifery Council more powers to speed up fitness to practise cases have come into force.
The ending of statutory supervision of midwives was announced by the government in 2015 following a number of reports – including the high profile review of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust – that found problems with the old system.
“These changes will, for the first time, ensure that we are fully responsible for all aspects of the regulation of midwives”
It meant midwives could be investigated by supervisors locally, without the involvement of the NMC, when a complaint was made about their practice. However, the DH said this represented a conflict of interest.
In January, the government confirmed it would go ahead with introducing the midwifery reforms, despite the vast majority of people who responded to a consultation objecting to the plans on the basis that midwives could lose support in practice.
- Major review of midwife regulation recommends removal of statutory supervision
- Regulatory system for midwives to be reformed
- Plans to drop NMC midwife committee a ‘retrograde step’
- Midwifery supervision removal to go ahead despite objections
The legislation changes will also see the removal of the regulator’s midwifery committee and respondents to the consultation were concerned that NMC decisions could be made without midwifery input.
From now on, the NMC will have full control of investigating complaints about midwives and supervisors will not be involved.
Meanwhile, midwives will access supervision through new models being developed in each of the UK countries. In England, this means supervisors will have to retrain to become professional midwife advocates.
- Midwife supervisors to retrain as advocates under plans
- Plans set out to ensure midwifery voice heard
The NMC has said it will use its new midwifery panel to access advice about the profession in the future.
The long-awaited changes to the legislation, described as being “out of date” by the head of the NMC, took effect from 31 March.
“I’m pleased to see these important changes finally take effect,” said NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith. “I have maintained for a long time that our legislation in this area was out-of-date and in need of reform.
“These changes will, for the first time, ensure that we are fully responsible for all aspects of the regulation of midwives helping to ensure safe and effective practice, with regulation of midwifery that is proportionate, fair and focused on public protection,” she added.
Meanwhile, the revised FtP legislation, which also came into force on 31 March, means the NMC now has greater flexibility in the scheduling of hearings and that reviews of interim orders – which temporarily restrict practice – take place every six month months, instead of every three months after the first assessment.
Further changes in this area are due to become effective from this summer, including giving case examiners more powers at an earlier stage of the FtP process, so that full hearings are only held for the most serious cases.
At an NMC council meeting last week, concerns were raised about the ability for case examiners to be able to issue public warnings to registrants that would stay on their record for 12 months.
Those objecting to the change believe the new sanction could be used “gratuitously”, according to the NMC.