The news that a possible fee hike could be on the cards at the Nursing and Midwifery Council will not be proving popular with registrants who feel let down by their regulator in recent years.
But if it is to tackle a backlog of 4,000 fitness to practise cases, there is probably little else the regulator can do than increase the number of cases it sees – and that is going to cost.
Suggestions of a fee rise were made by acting NMC chief executive Jackie Smith following an interim report into the regulator by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence last week. She said that a fee rise could not be ruled out while the NMC paused, or stopped, anything that was “non-essential” to focus on these cases.
Nurses will be understandably angry that it’s they that will pay the price for a regulator that failed to prioritise how best to spend their registration fees, letting the cases stack up while it launched its personal crusade to increase its reach and influence.
The regulator has been distracted by topics such as mandatory healthcare assistant regulation, while the FtP cases piled up in its in-tray. Most believe that tightening controls on healthcare support workers is an essential part of improving care provision and public confidence in nursing, but the NMC’s existing problems suggest it was not in the best place to take on this extra function.
The CHRE report has called into question the abilities of those leading the NMC during the period in question – and it’s not the first time that NMC personnel have found themselves in the spotlight when the regulator has been found wanting. But thankfully (if somewhat surprisingly) there is no shortage of senior nurses I have spoken to who are willing to take on what’s seen as a somewhat poisoned chalice to sort out this organisation for the good of the profession.
Cue the new temporary chair – Judith Ellis. Already holding down a job as executive dean at London South Bank University, she has now stepped up from the NMC board to try and transform it from the top. What she needs to do is restore the confidence of the public in nursing, but also the confidence of nurses in their regulator. The profession is holding its breath.