The Nursing and Midwifery Council has approved the removal of mandatory time limits for completing education programmes, handing over the responsibility to universities instead.
With immediate effect, education providers will now decide on the timescales students will have to complete their courses in.
“It’s about treating people fairly and complying with the law”
At a council meeting last week, the regulator agreed to the changes to ensure it was complying with equality laws that require students with extenuating circumstances – such as those who are pregnant – to have more flexibility to complete their programmes
Previously, student nurses and midwives were required to finish full-time programmes within five years and part-time programmes within seven years in order to be eligible for registration.
NMC council papers suggested the former time limits put the regulator at risk of being sued for discrimination. Disability discrimination, and pregnancy and maternity discrimination were “likely grounds for legal challenge” under the Equality Act 2010, they stated.
However, the papers also revealed question marks about how the new process would work. A recent public consultation on the changes found general support for the removal of mandatory time limits, but “mixed views” on whether responsibility could be devolved to universities and other education providers.
“Those who were not in favour of the proposals expressed concerns about the variation in decision making among approved education providers and the need for ensuring the currency of knowledge and skills in this area,” stated the papers.
“I don’t think the risks are as great as they are perceived”
NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told Nursing Times the NMC was bringing itself into line with other professional regulators and predicted that the changes would only affect a “small number” of people.
“I don’t think the risks are as great as they are perceived,” she said. “They need to be balanced against the requirement to treat people fairly and evenly.”
She added: “The vast majority of nurse and midwives going through a programme will want to get it done as quickly as possible. So we are talking about a small number of people here but it’s about treating people fairly and complying with the law.”
In response to concerns over registrants’ knowledge being out of date if they are allowed to complete their training over a longer period of time, Ms Smith said revalidation would address the problem by ensuring that nurses were competent to practise every three years.