Practising nurses and midwives should be banned in future from the top job at the Nursing and Midwifery Council, according to the body responsible for overseeing the troubled regulator.
The council’s senior executive holds the joint post of chief executive and registrar, and is responsible for both running the organisation and managing admission to the NMC register.
The NMC’s last permanent chief executive and registrar, Dickon Weir-Hughes, was a registered nurse, though his interim replacement Jackie Smith is not.
But the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence has called for the law to be changed to “prohibit” the appointment of a registrant as registrar, in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
It argues that the registrar has “considerable power” and their “integrity and independence from the profession should be beyond question”.
The CHRE has also recommended that lay members should form the majority over registrants on the NMC’s ruling council.
The CHRE’s comments come in response to proposals from the law commissions of England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland to restructure the way the NMC and other regulators operate. Its views are likely to be highly influential on the commission’s final recommendations to ministers.
However, the proposed move away from professionally led regulation is likely to be unpopular with nurses. A Nursing Times survey earlier this year found 71% of respondents though it was vital a nurse or former nurse was either chief executive or chair of the NMC.
Unison and the Royal College of Nursing have indicated that they would like to see at least one of the top positions held by someone with a nursing background.
But CHRE chief executive Harry Cayton said: “Regulation is solely and only about protection of the public. It is not about the promotion or enhancement of the status of any profession; that’s the domain of the professional associations and royal colleges not the regulator.”
The CHRE also backed the commissions’ proposals to introduce “financial penalties” for misconduct or failure to comply with fitness to practise proceedings, which were revealed in March.