An expected surge in fitness practise cases that underpinned the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s decision to increase the registration fee has so far failed to emerge, the regulator revealed yesterday.
NMC council members also said that a further fee rise pencilled in for 2015 was not a “forgone conclusion” and promised to reduce the fee if its cash reserves surpassed target levels.
The NMC registration fee went up from £76 to £100 on 1 February. The regulator had originally wanted to increase the fee to £120, but opted for the lower figure following an outcry from the profession and the offer of a grant from the government.
A subsequent rise to £120 in 2015 was also previously discussed by the regulator’s council, though it has not been formally agreed.
The NMC claimed the fee rise in February was necessary to cope with its workload, including a forecast 8% surge in referrals – predicted partly as a result of the publication of the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry report.
But the NMC’s latest council meeting on Thursday heard that FtP referrals were in fact down by 10% in 2012-13, compared with the same point in the previous year.
NMC director of FtP Sarah Page however cautioned that it was too early to draw any conclusions about the impact of the Francis report, which was published six weeks ago.
The meeting also heard that if its expenditure continued at current levels and a further fee increase was implemented in 2015, the regulator would have built up £30m in reserves by 2018.
Asked by Nursing Times how such a situation could be justified to registrants, NMC chair Mark Addison said they would look to reduce the fee if the reserve level looked like it would be significantly higher than its target of between £5m and £10m.
However, he pointed out the NMC was required to hold that level of reserves under accounting rules set by the Charity Commission.
Council member Judith Ellis stressed the second increase in 2015 was not a “foregone conclusion”.
The meeting also considered a report on introducing variable registration fees depending on circumstances – for example, if a registrant worked part-time or was low paid – or paying fees in instalments.
The council agreed not to pursue either option at this time, but to review the situation in 12 months.
NMC director of corporate services Mark Smith said the introduction of a system for payments in instalments would have to be introduced carefully to “avoid registrants lapsing by mistake”.
He also pointed out any cut in the fee for lower paid workers would have to be made up by an increase for those earning more.
In a statement released following the meeting, the NMC urged more nurses to take advantage of rules allowing them to claim a tax rebate on their fee worth £20. A recent survey of registrants found nearly three quarters did not claim this money back.
Chief executive Jackie Smith said: “In these hard times it makes sense for nurses and midwives who pay their own fee to look at the tax relief available, which they may be able to backdate to previous tax years as well.”
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