The Nursing and Midwifery Council has agreed it will use its midwifery panel, alongside a series of other measures, to access advice about the profession in the future, following the removal of its midwifery committee.
Earlier this year, the Department of Health in England consulted on proposals to remove statutory supervision for midwives, which also included abolishing the NMC’s statutory midwifery committee.
The results of the consultation, published in January, revealed widespread opposition to both proposals. The head of the Royal College of Midwives, Cathy Warwick, had also previously said that the loss of the committee would be a “retrograde” step.
However, the DH said it intended to go ahead with the changes, which were sparked by a number of reports – including the high-profile review into University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust – that identified problems with the current system of midwifery regulation.
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At its latest council meeting at the end of January, the NMC endorsed plans to instead use its midwifery panel as its main source of advice and expertise on midwifery in the future.
The panel currently includes the chief nursing officers from the four UK countries, representatives from the NMC’s midwifery committee, the RCM and Dr Bill Kirkup – who chaired the investigation into Morecambe Bay.
“[These plans] are designed to mitigate any risk that the council does not have the information it needs for effective midwifery regulation”
NMC council papers
It was originally set up as a temporary measure to provide high-level advice on key midwifery issues, including proposed changes to the NMC’s legislation.
NMC council papers discussed at the latest meeting said the panel was intended to exist for up to 18 months after the legislation changes are brought in.
The regulator has now agreed to review the panel’s remit so it includes providing advice on the effectiveness of the transition to new arrangements after the law change.
Under the plans, the panel will also be used to either provide strategic input into policy or regulatory issues for midwives – or ensure this has been gathered through other sources.
An NMC spokeswoman told Nursing Times that there would also now be a review of how long the panel should remain in place for.
Other plans endorsed at the meeting included for the NMC to hold annual “listening events” to hear from midwives across the UK about the challenges facing them, and for the regulator to improve its use of data and disaggregation of midwifery information
The NMC will also include a regular update from the midwifery panel over the 18 months at each of its public council meetings.
“The outcome of [the] discussions… will ensure the voice of midwifery remains within the regulator for the future”
In the council papers, the regulator said its plans “are designed to mitigate any risk that the council does not have the information it needs for effective midwifery regulation”.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the RCM, said she was sad to see the NMC’s midwifery committee axed, which she said was a move the college did not support and “neither did the overwhelming majority of midwives who responded to the DH consultation”.
But added: “We are particularly pleased with the outcome of [the] discussions which will ensure the voice of midwifery remains within the regulator for the future.”
Ms Silverton said the college had “succeeded in securing protections and a commitment” from the NMC that will “maintain and amplify the voice of midwifery within the regulator”.
She noted that the reconstituted midwifery panel would have a remit to provide strategic input into policy or regulatory proposals affecting midwifery matters, and that the NMC had now committed to promote it and raise recognition of it and its work.
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She also welcomed that there would also be more midwives employed in key posts in the NMC itself, twice yearly listening events and the creation of midwifery-specific expert groups when the regulator reviewed areas such as pre-registration education standards.
Ms Silverton highlighted that “specific interventions”, like the NMC’s panel or committee, would always be needed as long as midwifery was regulated alongside the much larger nursing profession, despite their being two distinct and separate professions.
She added: “In terms of their communications, the NMC has developed a broad plan that will ensure that midwives and midwifery form a distinct part of what the regulator does and the RCM is fully supportive of this.”