Unions have today criticised the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s decision to increase the annual registration fees for nurses and midwives from £100 to £120.
Gail Adams, Unison’s head of nursing, spoke out against the fee rise at today’s NMC council meeting, during which the fee rise was approved by the regulator’s leaders.
In a statement released after the decision, Ms Adams, said: “It is deeply disappointing that the NMC are going ahead with the increase in fees.”
“We are seriously worried that registrants will vote with their feet and seek employment elsewhere as they simply cannot afford this fee rise”
She highlighted that the fee rise came soon after a previous increase in 2013 – up from £76 to £100 – and against the background of a dispute over pay with the government.
“Registration fees have gone up by 52% in the past three years,” she said. “So how are nurses and midwives expected to pay for this when their pay has been frozen since 2010?
“Nurses and midwives have no choice but to pay a registration fee as without it they can’t practice. And the truth is financial hardship has hit them hard and they simply can’t afford it so they will be understandably angry,” said Ms Adams.
She reiterated concerns raised in the union’s evidence to the consultation on the fee rise proposals, in which a survey suggested many nurses would consider leaving the profession to financial pressures.
“We know that 36% of registrants are aged over 50, 20% over 55 and the NHS has long benefitted from older nurses returning to work on less hours. But a recent Unison survey showed that more than half who those who responded said it would not be economical for them to do so anymore,” she said.
She added: “We are seriously worried that registrants will vote with their feet and seek employment elsewhere as they simply cannot afford this fee rise.”
Ms Adams also repeated calls for the government to intervene and provide the nursing regulator with a financial grant, as it did in 2012 when the NMC had also sought to put the fee up to £120 but ultimately settled for £100 at the time.
“We believe that government should intervene and provide the NMC with sufficient funds to avoid any increase being imposed on nurses and midwives,” she said. “We remain committed to working with the NMC to reduce the costs of fitness to practice which is its biggest expenditure.”
“Currently 77% of the NMC’s income is spent on managing less than 0.6% of registrants whose fitness to practise is called into question,” she said. “While we recognise the progress made in processing these cases this continues to be the NMC’s biggest costs and this is unsustainable.”
“We believe the NMC should pursue alternative funding options instead of expecting some of the lowest paid public sector workers to bear the brunt of its financial problems”
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing said it “condemned” the NMC’s decision, describing the fee rise as “outrageous” and warning that it would be “deeply damaging to nursing morale”.
Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “This is a big blow to nurses and midwives. It means yet more pressure on their personal finances at a time when they are still reeling from the government’s unfair decision to deny them a cost-of-living pay rise.
“We believe the NMC should pursue alternative funding options instead of expecting some of the lowest paid public sector workers to bear the brunt of its financial problems,” he added.
“The health service is already struggling to keep nursing staff in the profession,” he said. “If the government wants to show support for a workforce that is feeling dejected and unvalued it should step in to help fund the NMC’s work and ensure this outrageous fee rise is avoided.”
The union Unite, whose nurse members work mostly in health visiting, school nursing and mental health, staged a protest against the fee rise plans outside the NMC’s offices this morning.
In its response to the decision to push ahead with the increase, Unite branded the fee rise as”a kick in the teeth” and accused the NMC of “riding roughshod over the strong opposition of its registrants”.
Unite professional officer Jane Beach said: “This decision was made, despite the fact that the NMC has nearly £10m locked way in its reserves. And our members are still reeling from absorbing the last 32% increase – from £76 to £100 – in the registration fee.”
Unite restated its policy that there should be a moratorium on any fee hike until at least March 2016 – and even then, any increase should be linked to the annual pay rise for NHS staff.
The Royal College of Midwifery also stressed concerns that a fee rise would act as a disincentive to midwives joining or remaining on the NMC register and claimed the fee was an effective tax of £9.50 for each 12 hour shift worked.
Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the RCM, said: “This is very disappointing news. Our members were angry at the suggestion of a fee rise and they will be equally angry now that it is confirmed.
“We strongly objected to the proposed fee rise but now that it is being implanted we must see value for money for midwives from the NMC,” she said.
“Midwives are paying towards the costs of the NMC so we want to see some real and concrete midwifery visibility at the NMC, among staff and on the council.”