Nursing directors need to think more carefully before referring registrants to the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the regulator’s new interim chair has told Nursing Times.
Judith Ellis, a former director of nursing at Great Ormond Street Hospital, was appointed to the role last week after incumbent Tony Hazell announced he is to stand down at the end of March.
His resignation follows that of former chief executive Dickon Weir-Hughes in January. The regulator is currently undergoing a strategic review by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence into its handling of fitness to practise cases.
Professor Ellis, executive dean for health and social care at London South Bank University, told Nursing Times the “key” problem faced by the NMC was a 52% increase in fitness to practise referrals over the past two years.
This had exacerbated an existing backlog of cases and contributed to a predicted £8.9m overspend by the regulator this financial year, she said.
Professor Ellis said 40% of referrals were found to have no case to answer and urged employers to consider if a referral to the NMC was appropriate.
She also encouraged directors of nursing to make more use of a helpline set up by the NMC last year to provide them with advice. So far it has had just 53 calls about possible referrals.
“Having been a nurse director myself, that opportunity to pick up the phone and say to somebody is this an appropriate referral would have been useful,” she said.
Professor Ellis has been a registered nurse for 32 years and a member of the NMC council for the past three years.
She did not rule out applying for the position of permanent chair but said she wanted a chance to get a feel for the two-day-a-week role first as well as awaiting the outcome of the CHRE’s review.
The CHRE is expected to recommend what skills and experience the board and the executive of the NMC will need. A separate review by the Law Commission looking at how regulation of different healthcare professionals can be made more consistent is also expected to shape the future of the NMC.
This could include less nursing representation within the regulator.
Professor Ellis said: “We need the right skills to run the regulator and that’s the vital thing. We can always get expert professional input. I think that’s something we need to consider carefully to get the balance right.”