The Nursing and Midwifery Council has failed the public and failed registrants and is deeply sorry.
That was the admission when the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence revealed the findings of its investigation into the troubled nursing regulator.
But sorry really isn’t good enough for those nurses who are now going to have to reach deep into their pockets to find another £44 a year to foot the bill for the NMC’s financial mistakes.
Does sorry really cut it when the CHRE report is finding fault in every nook and cranny of the NMC’s organisation? When poor leadership and bad governance, inadequate decision making, a “creaky” IT system that isn’t fit for purpose and a staff culture of “resigned resilience” exists? Is it enough to promise to make changes and expect people to believe it will happen? This is, after all, the latest in a series of negative reports about the regulator since its creation.
It seems reasonable to assume that had the regulator made slow and steady increases in the fee instead of being too afraid to raise the price for years, and had it spent the surpluses it had built up on fitness to practise, it would not be in this situation.
With a pretty hefty charge sheet levied at the NMC by the CHRE, you can understand why nurses are questioning whether those who live in glass houses should really be throwing stones.
Apparently, consultations with chief nursing officers, the royal colleges of nursing and midwifery, the unions, individual nurses and other stakeholders, all revealed a desire to maintain an independent nursing regulator. This was found to be non-negotiable.
Their hopes are all pinned on finding a new chair and a new chief executive. Finding them, it seems, is the Holy Grail.
It’s true – a change at the helm, albeit temporarily, has ushered in a more practical approach. Interim chief executive Jackie Smith and acting chair Judith Ellis, who is also performing her day job of executive dean at London South Bank University, have made a good start in getting to the heart of the problem and excavating the financial difficulties. But it’s going to take more than just a personnel change to convince nurses that the NMC has laid to rest its demons.
Where the NMC goes from here is key. Will the report mark a positive turning point or be seen as another nail in its coffin?
The Department of Health must monitor this organisation until the faith of nurses and the public is restored. Someone needs to ensure it is clear about its goals and is delivering its regulatory function effectively and to budget.
Promises are not enough.