Plans to give nurses and midwives less than a month to respond to fitness to practise allegations have been branded as unfair by unions.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council aims to investigate and establish whether registrants have a case to answer within a year in 90% of cases. The registrant is then invited to respond.
However, the NMC wants to introduce a deadline for responses under a raft of proposals designed to speed up the fitness to practise process and help it get on top of a backlog of more than 4,000 open cases.
It plans to give registrants just 28 days to indicate whether they admit any of the facts alleged against them. If they miss the deadline they could be deemed to have admitted the allegations.
Unison, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives have all strongly rejected the proposal.
In a written response to a consultation on the NMC’s plans, lawyers for the RCM pointed out that during the 28 days the registrant would have to “seek opinions, review evidence and obtain legal analysis…. to prepare a full response case”.
The college warned this did not appear “fair” and could disadvantage registrants. It proposed the deadline should be at least 42 days.
Lawyers for Unison accused the NMC of seeking to speed up the process “at the expense of the registrant’s preparation time rather than its own”.
The RCN described the 28 day deadline as “unrealistic”. It said an “unduly short timeframe” would leave many registrants unable to respond in a “constructive way”.
The NMC had argued that unions should begin preparing cases on behalf of their members as soon as an allegation was first made – before it had been decided whether there was a case to answer.
Unions claimed this would be a waste of their resources, as many cases end up not being taken forward.
Unions have also rejected proposals that the individual or organisation that referred the registrant should be allowed to address the fitness to practise panel.
In addition, the NMC has proposed introducing the option of “consensual disposal”, whereby a nurse or midwife could choose to avoid a full public hearing if they admitted their fitness to practise was impaired. It is already available to doctors from their regulator the General Medical Council.
Unions said they welcomed the proposal – as long as a registrant was not made to feel under pressure from the NMC to accept consensual disposal.
Unison lawyers said: “The NMC should not underestimate the level of influence it has on registrants, and the fear and anxiety the fitness to practise process can have on them.”