Legislative changes being introduced by the government have sparked fears of another fee rise from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Ministers have confirmed they are putting in place legislation that will force the NMC to take over partial funding of the organisation that oversees its performance. The NMC has, in turn, warned that it may have to pass this cost onto to registrants.
Last year, the Law Commission, a statutory independent body that advises ministers on law reform, made a raft of recommendations on the regulation of healthcare professionals.
This included one which stated that the body that oversees the performance of the NMC – the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care – should have “sufficient resources” to pay for proposals to extend its remit.
In its response to the recommendations at the end of January, the government stated it was putting legislation in place to make the PSA “financially independent” and that it will no longer be funded by the Department of Health. The change will mean the PSA is able to charge the nine professional regulators it oversees, said the government.
Unite professional officer Jane Beach said the changes meant the government would be effectively removing its responsibility for regulation.
She said the union opposed the move and was concerned that NMC registrant fees would continue to increase each year.
“It also changes the relationship,” she said. “How can they [the PSA] have the same relationship with the regulators when the regulators are funding them?”
“We are keen to work with the DH to find a fairer way of spreading the costs which is mindful to the regulators’ income [and] ability to pay”
The NMC re-iterated its concern over the government plans, claiming that because it has the largest membership of all regulators it would end up bearing almost half the total cost of funding for the PSA.
“This would disproportionately affect nurses and midwives who, in turn, pay a fee to the NMC,” said the NMC.
“We are keen to work with the DH to find a fairer way of spreading the costs which is mindful to the regulators’ income, ability to pay and the proportion of costs incurred through the PSA’s regulatory activities,” added the NMC.
Meanwhile, in response to other recommendations made by the Law Commission, the government said it would carry out further work on changes to the third part of the register, which includes specialist community public health nurses (SCPHNs).
The government noted that the protected “SCPHN” title was not commonly used by practitioners, who instead referred to themselves as health visitors, school nurses or other specific titles.
The NMC said it “will work with the DH to make sure the structure of the register is contributing to public protection”.
Other recommendations agreed by the government include measures to make fitness to practise more efficient, such as giving regulators the power to agree restrictions with registrants instead of them always having to be referred to an FtP panel.
The NMC welcomed this move, which it said it had been seeking for many years. It said each FtP hearing costs the NMC on average £13,000, which significantly affects the level of its registration fees.
The government also agreed it should have the power to introduce compulsory student registration for any regulator in the future. Currently the General Optical Council is the only body which has a duty to do this.
“The framework for promoting high standards of professional practice and behaviour…needs to be brought up to date and made fit for the future”
Legislation should be designed so that the register could be checked by universities to see if a student had already been removed from a course in the past due to misconduct, added the government.
Nicholas Paines QC, law commissioner for public law in England and Wales, said: “The framework for promoting high standards of professional practice and behaviour, and holding health and social care professionals to account needs to be brought up to date and made fit for the future.
“We have recommended that the existing legislation be swept away and replaced with a coherent legal framework, within which each regulator should be driven by the single objective of public protection,” she said.
“We are delighted that the government agrees with our position, has accepted the thrust of our recommendations and intends to legislate, when parliamentary time allows, to implement these important reforms,” she added.