If the story of the Nursing and Midwifery Council was made into a drama, it would be an epic one. Costing millions to make, incredibly long and with more unexpected twists and turns than most Hollywood blockbusters - it would grip audiences.
Sadly, though, this isn’t about entertainment. And the millions in question don’t belong to some glitzy Hollywood studio, but to registrants. And it seems their hard-earned money yet again is being used for a cause that isn’t protecting the public.
After years of allegations of racism and bullying, accusations of poor leadership and financial mismanagement of registrants’ money, another calamity has occurred for the regulator. And this may be the most disturbing of all.
It seems that in February this year, a High Court judge presiding over a case in Scotland said that in his view the legal basis for the NMC’s powers meant that finding a nurse incompetent could “never result in striking off” that registrant (see page 2).
He said “at the most” registrants found to be incompetent could be suspended for up to a year. And although they could be suspended again, that suspension could not be converted into a striking-off order without further findings against the individual.
While the Nursing and Midwifery Council tries to find out where it goes from here, the question about who exactly it can strike off is cause for alarm
This saga may seem like another head-in-hands moment in the NMC’s history, but it’s not the regulator’s fault this time.
Responsibility lies with the policy makers who set up the council and defined its powers, who failed to ensure watertight wording.
But while the NMC tries to find out where it goes from here, the question about who exactly it can strike off is cause for alarm.
Most fitness to practise cases are not about competence but about behavioural issues - but having the power to strike off nurses who don’t know what they’re doing is vital for the regulator.
The NMC’s prime job is to protect the public. And it can only do that if it can assure the public that the register it maintains contains only nurses who are safe to practise.
While poor attitude or inappropriate use of trust computers are things we don’t want to see from our nurses, they don’t present the same risk to patients as nurses who are not competent at their job.
Having the power to ensure nurses are not allowed to practise if they aren’t skilled enough to take care of patients is vital if the NMC is to ensure the public’s safety and the standing of the profession.
This latest twist in the tale of the NMC just seems unbelievable - and makes that Hollywood saga or Greek tragedy feel more like the latest scene in the tragicomedy that has become Carry on Regulating.
Jenni Middleton, editor
email@example.com. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimesed