The Nursing and Midwifery Council has been accused by politicians of “completely ignoring” the views of hard-pressed nurses and midwives in its decision to increase registration fees.
In a debate in Parliament on the fee rise, MPs described the increase as “appalling” and accused the regulator of “holding nurses to ransom”.
“It is a double whammy, to put it mildly, for hard-working nurses and midwives”
The registration fee increased from £100 to £120 in February – a move opposed by the overwhelming majority of nurses and midwives.
It follows a recent increase from £76 to £100 – amounting to a near 60% increase in two years
The debate was secured by David Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon. It was prompted by a petition calling on the government to review the fee increase and the way the decision had been made.
The online petition, set up by Stephen Iwasyk, a mental health liaison nurse at Hertfordshire Partnership University Foundation Trust, attracted just under 114,000 signatures.
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Mr Anderson said the petition demonstrated nurses’ anger and the sheer strength of feeling against the fee rise, which has come at a time of pay freezes and increased living costs.
Many felt their views had been “completely ignored” by the NMC, he added.
“It is a double whammy, to put it mildly, for hard-working nurses and midwives to be told ‘You are going to be worse off – and by the way, why don’t you pay more for your registration?’,” he said.
He added: “Although the NMC recognised the economic difficulties nurses and midwives face in its consultation paper, it proposed the fee increase regardless. Effectively it ignored the reality of how those people are struggling.”
He pointed out that nurses did not have choice when it came to paying the sum, because they could not work without being on the register.
“It [the NMC] can hold people to ransom and, unfortunately, that is what it is surely doing,” he said during the debate last week in Westminster Hall.
He warned that increasing fees could prompt nurses to leave the profession, deter people from joining or returning after a career break – amid a widespread shortage of nurses. He called on the NMC to look at reduced fees for new registrants, part-time staff and those nearing retirement age.
Meanwhile, he warned there was no guarantee fees would not continue to rise to cover costs such as the introduction of revalidation.
Responding for the government, life sciences minister George Freeman said he was aware of the strong opposition to the fee increase, but added the NMC was an independent body and responsible for setting its own fees.
“The government has made it clear that they expect the NMC council to have clear justification for, and to consider nurses and midwives’ financial constraints when making, decisions on fees,” he said.
“The NMC says it has not taken this decision lightly and it has considered the responses to the consultation in detail and carefully listened to the issues raised and I have no reason to doubt that.
“However, the NMC’s first duty must be to deliver its core regulatory functions and to fulfil its statutory duties to ensure public protection,” he added.
“The only way for us to significantly reduce our costs is to change the existing legislation”
The NMC has insists it has been prevented from reducing costs due to a delay in legislation that would help its streamline its work.
Meanwhile, it says it has been disproportionately hit by a fundamental change to the funding of the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), which regulates bodies like the NMC.
Instead of being funded by government, the cost of running the PSA will now be met by the nine regulators it oversees with the NMC, as the largest, paying nearly half.
However, Mr Freeman said the extra cost was likely to be just £3 extra per registrant or 2.5% of the £120 fee.
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“The NMC exists to protect the public,” said an NMC spokeswoman. “Our legal framework means that we are currently obliged to spend 77% of our income on fitness to practise.
“The only way for us to significantly reduce our costs is to change the existing legislation. We have been calling for changes to our legislative framework, and will continue to do so,” she said.
“We have expressed our significant concern about the PSA levy, which would see nurses and midwives paying a disproportionate amount of the cost,” she said. “We are disappointed that our concerns have not been fully addressed.”
She added the NMC was taking steps to make paying the registration fee more manageable including enabling nurse to pay in instalments from next year.