‘Employers are clogging up NMC’s in-tray with inappropriate referrals’

Employers burden Nursing and Midwifery Council with complaints that could be handled locally – former RCN chief.
Peter Carter

Employers are needlessly adding to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) caseload with complaints that should have been handled internally, a former head of the RCN claims.

Ex-general secretary Peter Carter said half of referrals to the nursing and midwifery regulator in 2014/15 were deemed to have had no case to answer.

‘System is silted-up’

Speaking at a debate on health regulation at London South Bank University, Dr Carter said: ‘The NMC has a number of referrals that silt up the system,’ Dr Carter said.

‘There are far too many examples of employers referring to the NMC without ensuring only appropriate cases end up before it.’

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told the audience the regulator had long campaigned for changes to its legal framework.

She said Fitness to Practise (FtP) hearings were too adversarial, adding: ‘We need a framework which allows us to focus on high-risk individuals who pose a threat to patient safety.

Stressful for registrants

‘It is incredibly stressful for registrants and witnesses to appear before us. We need to find a better way of dealing with issues where people can retrain and learn – because we all make mistakes in this high-risk business.’

She said the NHS and other employers need to think carefully about how they deal with patient complaints.

‘People come to us out of frustration. Something has gone wrong and often all they want is for someone to say ‘sorry’.

‘We have a framework that should have been thrown out years ago. You would never design it this way if you were starting now.’

Plans to modernise

In April this year, the Department of Health began a consultation on the NMC’s legal framework in a bid to modernise the regulator and save an estimated £6.9 million a year.

If proposed changes are agreed, they will allow the regulator to conclude some FtP cases at an earlier stage. The most serious cases would still go to a hearing.

Ms Smith told the debate the NMC receives around 5,500 complaints a year, a ‘fraction’, she said, of the 690,000 nurses and midwives on the register.

Costly legal fees

She informed the audience that half of every nurse and midwife’s £120 registration fee goes towards the £40 million annual cost of FtP hearings.

Dr Carter concluded: ‘I want nursing to retain its own regulator. But what I don’t want is it just to be a stick that beats an individual registrant when something goes wrong.’