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NMC 'clarifies' that official industrial action does not breach nursing code


The Nursing and Midwifery Council has issued a statement “clarifying” its position on industrial action, after unions threatened the regulator with legal proceedings.   

The NMC confirmed today that nurses could take industrial action without breaching the nursing code of conduct, highlighting that it was the primary function of employers to provide sufficient cover for staff taking part in official protests.

But it reminded nurses that sharing information with staff covering their roles was “especially important” in such situations.

It follows a row with unions last week, sparked when the NMC issued a press release telling nurses they “must ensure that patient safety is not compromised by industrial action”.

It warned nurses they would “need to consider very carefully the impact of their actions on the people receiving their care”, or risk placing their registration in jeopardy.

The union Unison responded by threatening the NMC with legal action, accusing the regulator of being “heavy handed” and arguing that official industrial action would not be in breach of the code.

In a response statement today, NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes said: “We recognise that many nurses and midwives are members of trade unions and respect their democratic right to express support for their trade unions and to lobby on a wide range of issues.

“This does of course include their right to support and take part in strike action. The NMC respects those rights and wishes to confirm this in response to questions from Unison as to its position.”

He added that the NMC “naturally has concerns as to the impact of any industrial action on patients” but said he recognised it was “primarily the responsibility of employers to ensure there is adequate cover in the event of any such lawful industrial action”.

“The code does not prohibit nurses and midwives from taking part in lawful industrial action but they remain, as regulated professionals, subject to their professional obligations under the code,” Professor Weir-Hughes said.

“In particular we remind nurses and midwives that the requirements to share information with colleagues will continue to apply even after industrial action has started; while the duty to keep clear and accurate records becomes especially important where it is understood that alternative cover is to be provided.”

Unison said it welcomed what it described as a “significant climb down” by the NMC. General secretary Dave Prentis said: “We are pleased they have accepted that the code of conduct in no way stops nurses and midwives from taking lawful industrial action.

“We will still be seeking answers from the NMC about what was behind this heavy handed and threatening statement.”

Unison has responded by saying it does not now plan to take legal action against the NMC.

Unions including Unison, Unite and the GMB are preparing to ballot members on holding a “day of action” on 30 November 2011 in protest at the changes to public sector pensions. Unison began polling its members today.

The Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association have opted not to ballot members but have said they support the day of action.


Readers' comments (36)

  • That is one hell of a backtrack Weir-Hughes!!!

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  • Haha can you say running scared much? Talk about back peddling!

    It's what all bullies do when you confront them!

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  • Hee hee hee! We already knew that NMC! It does rather show your true colours though

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  • Steve Williams

    A bit longer than my usual stuff but I feel it needs saying (and reading!)

    I find this latest development immensely interesting for a couple of reasons. Bear with me through this little diatribe and I'll try to explain why this story illustrates why whistle-blowing (I hate that phrase but... meh... we all know what it means) will never be acceptable in the NHS.

    Just for a moment suspend your personal opinion about the moral position about nurses and strike action. Forget it for a couple of minutes and try to peer beyond the smoke and mirrors here. There is a much more fundamental issue, that affects all nurses, lurking in the shadows here.

    The general definition of a bully is someone who uses their strength against someone who is weaker either by strength, power, energy in general that could be financial as well as criminal.

    I don't expect I am the only one on this forum who experienced bullying at least once or twice during their childhood. I also guess I am not the only one who went (whining) to their parents and asked for advice on how best to deal with a bully. I would also be prepared to put money on the fact that most of us got, roughly, the same advice from our Mum or Dad...

    “You've got to stand up to a bully kid. If you stand up to a bully they'll soon back down when you call their bluff!”

    I'm not saying that I never picked up a few more (mental and physical) bruises in the years that followed that sanguine advice but, for the most part, I did find that it was a valuable “evidence-based” philosophy.

    So that's bullies for you - people who use threats, intimidation, superior size/position/strength to get what THEY want, which most of the time won't be in your best interest.

    So here we had a situation on Friday where the NMC – a big powerful organization that, literally, has the power of (working) life or death over individual nurses - 'threatened' them with losing their registrations if they exercise their democratic legal right to strike and their patients suffered as a result (notice the open ended threat – how exactly does one measure if patients are suffering – surely they are suffering from the NHS cutbacks already?)

    So the NMC intimidates nurses - in a situation the NMC have no constitutional remit to interfere in - and over the weekend UNISON steps up and calls their bluff, by launching a legal action against them.

    Suddenly on Monday the NMC sees it has been "stood up to" and collapses in a pitiful and hollow display of false contrition saying “We didn't mean it – we were simply misunderstood! Please don't hurt us!” It admits that it's “the primary function of employers to provide sufficient cover for staff taking part in official protests” not the individual nurses.

    Well what about that! It took them three days to realize what every front-line nurse already knew. Do these Einsteins get paid for this?

    So go back to the bullying analogy. In this particular scenario who would you say is the bully? The NMC or the nurses? Who was using their superior position to threaten a more vulnerable group? Who backed down immediately when someone stood up to them and called their bluff?

    Just in case you missed the point – it's now plain for all to see that the NMC is in fact a cowardly bully – headed up by a leadership that are more content than to be the government's sock-puppet. It's rather like appointing the school-bully to be the playground supervisor – you won't have much lunch money left!

    So the NMC is a bully. What's my point?

    Every week I read countless harrowing articles and threads about endemic bullying of nurses in the NHS. I also read many proposed solutions of how to eradicate the problem but nothing ever seems to come to fruition.

    Forget whistle-blowing is merely a slow way to commit professional suicide for nurses. In the unlikely event that a nurse is entirely exonerated for carrying out their duty - under the NMC's own professional code of conduct – and even manages to get substantial compensation for their trouble... their professional reputation will forever be sullied and wherever they subsequently work they will be whispered about as that nurse who “grassed.”

    Yes the bullying culture is endemic and rife in the NHS. Where does it come from? Look to the top. The NMC is the biggest bully in the game. The rest is due to a trickle-down effect. Even the RCN like to join in the game with their passive-aggressive tactics.

    The foxes are indeed in charge of the hen house – thank god for UNISON. I hope the union pursues their legal action against the NMC and the courts tell the bullies to carry out only the duties outlined in their official remit. Maybe even force the shameful bullies to resign and do us all a huge favour.

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  • The NMC have made complete fools of themselves, and these are the people that are the gatekeepers of our registration, and therefore our right to practice as Registered nurses. Bloody scary if you ask me!!

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  • Well said Steve, far more eloquent than I could muster up in between fits of laughter about the NMC! It's about time this useless organisation was kicked into touch permanently!

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  • Very well put Steve.

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  • Steve - that was truly a brilliant summary of the situation.

    Carter - learn from this and support your nurses, otherwise your union might head down the same slippery slope as the NMC - as it has just launched itself off of at maximum velocity.

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  • Steve- Absolutely excellent summary! NMC are indeed cowardly bullies!! Also agree Carter needs to watch out!!

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  • My take is that it's time for the NMC to go, Period!!! We need a regulatory body that actually makes sense to nurses, represents nurses as well as the safety of the public and has the balls to tell the government where to go, when they come up with such rear-end tactics of dismantling one of the top employers in the world!!!

    Thank you Steve for calling it out as it is. NMC are just bullies that ended up back-tracking their position for fear of the reprisals from 'strong unions.' Note, I did not mention the RCN in the same breath here.

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