FtP is about patient safety, not private behaviour, RCN tells regulator

Some outcomes suggest ‘moral policing’, with nurses being held to a different standard, college tells NMC

Nurses struck off for undertaking sex work or participating in swingers’ websites may have been subject to ‘moral policing’ by the regulator, suggests the RCN.

The criteria in FtP cases should focus on ‘what is absolutely necessary to main​​​tain public
confidence’, the RCN says. Picture: iStock

The college said some fitness to practise (FtP) outcomes in the past suggested the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) panel had been ‘policing morality, as opposed to professional behaviour’. It emphasised that ensuring public safety was the purpose of the FtP function.

‘The bar should be set very high’

The comments are part of the college's response to the recent NMC consultation on changes to its FtP process, which could see more nurses avoid hearings by disclosing errors early and having their cases dealt with at local level.

The NMC proposes that it will only take action to uphold public confidence when a registrant’s conduct is so serious that if it did not, the public would not want to use the services of the registrant.

The college said it welcomed the NMC’s efforts to set meaningful criteria for maintaining public confidence in the nursing register.

‘We agree the bar should be set very high so that panellists do not have to construct a moral arena for registrants to occupy based on their own world view,’ it said.

Nurses entitled to a private life

The RCN invited views from its executive and management committees, nurse networks, and its members before submitting a response. It said many members did not think there was any behaviour that should preclude membership of the register providing there was no risk to patient safety.

‘We have represented members who have been struck off for undertaking sex work or participating in a swinger website,’ the college said. ‘Other members have not seen this as behaviour that should lead to sanction, and expressed a view that nurses are entitled to a private life.’

Fair comparison with other professions

The RCN said it hoped the NMC would look at the regulation of other health professions when determining what is fair, as there is a sense that sometimes nurses are held to a different standard.

It added: ‘We want any criteria to be focused on what is absolutely necessary for maintenance of confidence.’

The college agreed that many of the cases heard by the NMC could be addressed more quickly and appropriately at a local level.

In March, the NMC admitted its system for dealing with complaints about or errors by nurses and midwives was ‘expensive, time-consuming and adversarial’.

The regulator’s public consultation on its plan for FtP proceedings is now closed.

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