The Nursing and Midwifery Council has made its strongest statement yet against statutory regulation for healthcare assistants.
In a note to the House of Commons health committee, published in a report today, the NMC said it “is neither appropriate nor feasible for us to develop a mandatory model of regulation of healthcare support workers”.
The regulator said it had a “challenging programme of work” ahead and its “priorities” had to be developing revalidation and improving fitness to practise processes.
The NMC said it supported the government’s decision to develop common training standards and a code of conduct for healthcare support workers.
When combined with proposals for voluntary registration – to be administered by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence – and plans to clarify when nurses should delegate work to HCAs, it said there would be “an effective framework for public protection”.
The statement represents a significant step back from previous comments made by the NMC.
Last year it welcomed the Commons health committee’s support “for a mandatory statutory regulatory model for healthcare support workers working under the direct supervision of nurses and midwives”.
Former NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes told Nursing Times in 2010 he was “single-minded” about ensuring HCA regulation came about.
He was also quoted in The Times last September as saying hospital wards could face a “ghastly national disaster” because of a growing number of unregulated HCAs.
However, it is understood there were differences of opinion within the NMC on the issue.
In January – after Professor Weir-Hughes’ sudden departure from the regulator – NMC chair Tony Hazell wrote to Nursing Times to confirm there had never been a “formal policy decision by the council regarding the nature of any proposed regulation”.
Professor Hazel’s letter came in response to a House of Lords debate in which peers implied the NMC supported mandatory regulation.
The government has so far dismissed attempts to introduce mandatory regulation through the Health and Social Care Bill.
The NMC’s most recent statement on HCA regulation, sent to the Commons’ health committee on 22 February, is published in a report summarising responses to the MPs’ inquiries on the different regulators from last year.
In the report, the Department of Health said it “welcomes improvements at the NMC but would urge it not to be distracted from the delivery of its core functions by activities outside of its current statutory remit, when improvements in its current performance could still be achieved”.
It said the regulator “needs to continue to see its primary purpose as public protection and public service and not as a body that represents the profession”.
The CHRE is currently carrying out a strategic review of the NMC, as previously reported in Nursing Times.
At its next annual accountability hearing with the NMC, the health committee said it intends to question the NMC on attempts to protect whistleblowers. It will also broach any relevant findings from the final report of the public inquiry into Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust, which is expected later this year.