The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has been slammed by MPs for “failing” to prioritise patient safety.
Speaking at the second nursing accountability hearing by the Health Select Committee, chair Stephen Dorrell said the NMC does not understand its function.
He said: “We welcome the fact that the new management team in the NMC is committed to address its failings and the latest evidence shows that its performance is improving.”
However Dorrell added there is a “serious gap” between current performance and acceptable standards.
In February Nursing in Practice reported the NMC had a backlog of 4,326 cases. MPs said the caseload should have been tackled years ago, adding that the NMC should set to the task with “greater urgency”.
Fitness to practice cases would be decided in 18 months, according to NMC proposals, but the committee said the timeframe should be reduced to nine months, or 12 at the most.
“If our legislation was changed we could handle fitness to practise cases more rapidly, more consistently, and more economically,” said NMC chief executive Jackie Smith.
Though Smith added that the NMC does not “underestimate the challenges ahead”.
Late last year the NMC raised registration fees from £76 to £100, and the committee does not believe a further increase would be “justified”.
Dorrell said: “We accept the NMC requires greater resources in order to do its basic job and we welcome the Government’s intervention to limit the effect of the fee increase on registrants.
“However, nurses and midwifes still face a 32% fee increase at a time of public sector pay restraint.”
The Health Select Committee said in the past “chronic under-investment” characterised the NMC’s approach to fitness to practice, with Dorrell adding it is “unacceptable” that the regulator underestimated its budget by 30%.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also agrees the NMC should make “urgent” changes.
RCN chief executive Dr Peter Carter said: “Nursing needs a strong, effective regulator which is fit to meet the needs of patients and the profession.
“Nurses need to have faith and confidence in their regulator, and this will be damaged if they are again confronted with an unfair increase in registration fees designed to bail out an organisation which has not been able to plan its workload.”
However, he added the NMC has made progress in prioritising fitness to practice proceedings.
Jackie Smith, NMC head admitted that the report is not “a clean bill of health”, and said the organisation did not expect one.
She said: “We know we have a lot to do before we become an efficient and effective regulator.
“We are now focused on our core statutory role, tackling our fitness to practise workload, introducing revalidation, and reviewing our systems and processes, all to protect the public.”
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