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Fitness to practise: unions raise concerns over public access to virtual hearings

They warn that recordings from NMC proceedings could be posted on social media 
A man looking at a video conference meeting on his computer screen. The COVID-19 pandemic has meant hearings have been held virtually. Picture: iStock

They warn that recordings from proceedings could be posted on social media

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has agreed to allow public access to virtual fitness to practise (FtP) proceedings, sparking concerns about the potential for these to be recorded and shared on social media.

Time-limited emergency measures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed hearings to be held virtually.

Finding a balance between open justice and fairness to registrants

Matthew McClelland

The emergency measures also removed the requirement that hearings be held in public. This was because the NMC was unsure that it had the appropriate video and audio infrastructure in place.

But during an NMC Council meeting on 29 July

They warn that recordings from proceedings could be posted on social media 

 iStock
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to FtP hearings being held online. Picture: iStock

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has agreed to allow public access to virtual fitness to practise (FtP) proceedings, sparking concerns about the potential for these to be recorded and shared on social media.

Time-limited emergency measures put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic have allowed hearings to be held virtually.

Finding a balance between open justice and fairness to registrants

NMC executive director of strategy and insight Matthew McClelland
Matthew McClelland

The emergency measures also removed the requirement that hearings be held in public. This was because the NMC was unsure that it had the appropriate video and audio infrastructure in place.

But during an NMC Council meeting on 29 July, the regulator agreed to reinstate public access through online audio, as well as in viewing galleries at some of its FtP hearing centres.

However, a coalition of nursing and midwifery unions, including the RCN, Unison, Unite and the Royal College of Midwives, had expressed concern ahead of the meeting that recordings of proceedings might be put on social media, to the detriment of the registrants under investigation.

NMC executive director of strategy and insight Matthew McClelland told the meeting that he understood the concerns around public access to virtual hearings.

‘We have to strike a balance between open justice on the one hand and risk of unfairness to registrants on the other,’ he said.

Making emergency measures permanent sets ‘worrying precedent’

NMC Council members also discussed concerns about a recent government proposal to make the COVID-19 emergency measures permanent by removing the so-called ‘sunset clause’ that sets an expiry date for them.

The emergency measures contained changes to FtP rules, plus temporary registration for overseas nurses and retired nurses who wished to return to practise during the pandemic. 

The unions had expressed concerns about this proposal in a letter to the NMC on 21 July.

'To decide at short notice that [the measures] should become permanent with nothing but a promise that there will be a consultation at some point is a worrying precedent,’ they wrote.

NMC Council members agreed that it will not extend the use of the emergency measures beyond 31 March 2021, without first hearing from a public consultation on the proposals – the scope, questions and date for which is yet to be set.

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