NMC chief explains why she is quitting

Jackie Smith says the time is right to go

The outgoing chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has played down speculation over her decision to resign days before publication of a report that criticises the nurse regulator.

Outgoing chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Jackie Smith. 
Picture: NMC

Last month Jackie Smith announced she will be stepping down from the post she has held at the regulator since 2012.

The news came two days before the NMC’s own regulator, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA), published a review into historic failures relating to NMC fitness to practise cases involving midwives at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust. 

Poor care was linked to the deaths of at least 19 mothers and babies at Furness General Hospital in Cumbria between 2004 and 2012. The PSA was highly critical of the NMC's long and delayed investigations into the incidents, as well as the way bereaved families were handled.

‘The time feels right to move on’

Ms Smith spoke to Nursing Standard shortly after the NMC’s ruling council met on 6 June to discuss its response to the PSA’s review.

Asked if her decision to resign was directly linked to the authority’s findings, Ms Smith said: ‘I just feel that the timing is right.

‘I joined the NMC in 2012, following a strategic review that had made 15 recommendations designed to improve the organisation. At the time I said it would take five years to move the NMC forward and become a good regulator. I also said that, once we reached that point, I would look at doing something else.

‘In the end I’ve been here six-and-a-half years, so the time really feels right to move on and for someone new to come in and take a fresh look at things.’

‘Inadequate’ response

The PSA's Lessons Learned review said the NMC's response to the Morecambe Bay deaths was inadequate and told the regulator urgently to improve the transparency of its processes.

New NMC chair Philip Graf said at Tuesday's council meeting: ‘I want to say on behalf of everyone at the NMC we apologise unreservedly to the families for the distress caused as a result of our failure to engage with them.’

The council agreed three priority actions:

  • Treat everyone who comes into contact with the NMC with respect, and better support those who engage with its processes.
  • Improve transparency and be open with people when things go wrong.
  • Embed a culture of openness and learning throughout the organisation.

Demonstrating progress

Ms Smith said: ‘We made many, many, many mistakes. It is far too early to say we are able to demonstrate the progress we’ve made so far.

‘Unless we meet those affected families directly to hear their experiences, we will make changes without knowing if it makes any difference to them.’

Next month, Ms Smith will answer MPs’ questions about the Morecambe Bay deaths when she appears before the Commons health and social care committee alongside Mr Graf and NMC director of fitness to practise Matthew McClelland.

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