Nurses and midwives who fail to renew their registration on time could face weeks out of work under new rules from the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
From November those who allow their registration to lapse will no longer be able to take advantage of a grace period in which they can pay their fee or submit documentation late but still be authorised to work again within a couple of days.
Instead, they will be removed from the register immediately and will have to go through a formal process of readmission, which takes up to six weeks to complete.
In this interim period, nurses and midwives will not be permitted to work. This is because they are legally required to be on the NMC register in order to practise.
“A small number regularly allow their registration to lapse, which often causes difficulty with their employers “
Currently, a “small number” of people regularly allow their registration to lapse, according to the NMC.
The change in rules comes at the same time a new system of three-yearly competency checks is expected to be introduced.
From April, revalidation is due to be implemented, which it has been predicted could result in tens of thousands of nurses and midwives seeing their registration lapse.
The NMC said it was changing the rules on renewing registrations to “simplify the process and ensure consistency”, which will allow it to introduce quarterly instalments for fee payments from April 2016.
It said it was aware that under the current system – which allows fees to be paid and documentation submitted within three months of lapsed registration – some nurses and midwives continued to practise.
“The vast majority of nurses and midwives pay their fee in a conscientious and timely way. A small number regularly allow their registration to lapse, which often causes difficulty with their employers who may take disciplinary action and restrict their practice or suspend them without pay,” said an NMC spokeswoman.
“Diligent employers have been mitigating the numbers of people who work while their registration is lapsed by suspending their practice. Some employers, though, have not been dealing with it,” the spokeswoman added.
Commenting on the changes, the Royal College of Nursing warned registrants that continuing to work while not on the register was a criminal offence and could result in suspension from work.
It urged all nurses and midwives to keep on top of their registration with the NMC and pay their fees in advance to avoid this happening.
Nurses and midwives are required to retain their registration every year by paying a fee.
Every three years they must, in addition, provide documentation showing they have met the regulator’s requirements to practise, which is known as registration renewal.
From April 2016, a new system of registration renewal is expected to be introduced.
Revalidation, which replaces the current post-registration education and practice (PREP), will require nurses and midwives to submit online evidence that they have met a number of extra requirements, such as having had a professional development conversation and having received feedback on their practice.
At the NMC’s most recent council meeting in July, it was noted that 6% of the 2,100 nurses and midwives who piloted the new system did not complete revalidation.
The regulator is yet to reveal the reasons behind this.
One member of the NMC council said it was a “fairly awful thought” that if the same proportion failed to revalidate when the system was introduced, this would mean 40,000 people’s registration lapsing, making them unable to work.