Nurses and midwives accused of being unfit to practice could avoid a full hearing if they admit their guilt, under proposals being put forward by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The regulator is consulting on changes to fitness to practise procedures in order to speed up the process and tackle the growing backlog of cases. Since December the number of open cases has been increasing by an average of 127 a month, up to 4,461 in April.
The NMC was criticised for repeatedly failing to get on top of the problem in a damning report from the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence last month.
NMC acting chief executive Jackie Smith said the proposals were designed to minimise the number of hearing days.
“Each hearing day costs several thousand pounds so these proposals would bring much needed efficiencies to the fitness to practise process,” she said.
If they go ahead the changes would mean a registrant could avoid a full hearing if they admit the facts and agree their fitness to practise is impaired.
Under the proposal, known as “consensual disposal” the parties involved would agree a sanction, such as suspension, restrictions on practice or further training, that would then go to an NMC panel for approval. The process is already available to doctors.
The consultation also proposes holding any preliminary case meetings by teleconference and introducing a more stringent requirement to respond to NMC requests for information.
For example, if a registrant failed to respond to a letter requiring them to confirm or deny the facts of an allegation within 28 days they would be deemed to have admitted the facts. The NMC said this would avoid witnesses being called unnecessarily and make it easier to schedule hearings.
Unite professional officer Dave Munday told Nursing Times the union would be scrutinising the proposals carefully. He added: “We shouldn’t restrict someone’s right to justice because the NMC is trying to get through the backlog of referrals.”
Ms Smith said the regulator was “absolutely focused” on carrying out Fitness to Practise functions in a way that is “effective, fair, and above all in the public interest”.
The consultation will close at the end of July.