Department of Health backs overhaul of the NMC’s fitness to practise process

Fundamental changes to the NMC’s legal framework could speed up fitness to practise cases.

The Department of Health (DH) has backed proposals to overhaul the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s (NMC) ‘outdated’ legal framework.

The Department of Health has approved new powers to the Nursing and Midwifery Council

The department has given its approval to a raft of changes to the regulator’s fitness to practise (FtP) process, which will give the NMC new powers to resolve some cases more quickly, taking only the most serious cases to a full hearing. 

Responding to an NMC consultation on modernising midwifery regulation and improving FtP processes, the DH also agreed on modernising midwifery regulation by separating the function of supervision of midwives from regulation.

Midwifery regulation

This means the NMC will be fully responsible for all aspects of midwifery regulation. Changes will also remove the statutory requirement for the NMC’s midwifery committee.

The DH backed proposals that the NMC's conduct and competence committee and health committee should be replaced by a single FtP committee which will deal with allegations of impairment of fitness to practise on all grounds.

In its response, the DH said it considers that this change will ‘reduce unnecessary delays and improve the fairness of the process by ensuring all cases are heard by one committee’.

It also backed changes allowing the NMC to conclude some cases at an earlier stage, by giving additional powers to case examiners, who decide on whether there is a case to answer.

Binding agreements

These powers could include the ability to recommend formal binding agreements, or undertakings, between the NMC and registrants. 

The examiners could also issue warnings when there is no case to answer, but concerns about a registrant’s past conduct remain. These would stay on a nurse’s registration for 12 months.

The DH said the proposal to give the NMC powers to issue a warning or give advice is consistent with the FtP procedures of both the General Medical Council and the General Dental Council.

It also backed proposed changes aimed at modernising midwifery regulation, due to start in March this year, making the NMC fully responsible for all aspects of midwifery regulation.

Significant reform

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: ‘I have long maintained that our current legal framework is out of date and in need of significant reform and I am pleased that the government has recognised this.’

Minister of state for health Phillip Dunne said: ‘We want the NHS to be the safest healthcare service in the world – by giving the NMC direct responsibility for regulating midwives, and making the NMC’s assessment of midwives’ and nurses’ fitness to practise more efficient, these changes will help to make midwifery and nursing as safe as it can be.’

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