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Fitness to practise cases set to be 'fairer' as part of regulatory reform

The Government has confirmed it will draft legislation that would improve fitness to practise procedures carried out by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and other regulatory bodies. 

The planned overhaul follows a major consultation on reforming the regulation of healthcare professionals, which ran from October 2017 to January 2018.

The Government response to the consultation found that current legislation is outdated, burdensome and leads to unnecessary delay to the day-to-day functions of regulators. 

It proposed changes that would see all regulatory bodies provided with broadly consistent powers that allow them to handle fitness to practise cases more quickly, proportionately and fairly.

This would include allowing regulators to be able to resolve cases without the need for a full panel hearing where appropriate.  

The greater autonomy given by the proposed legislation would also allow regulatory bodies to better support their registrants in their day-to-day operations, according to the Government. 

Currently, the day-to-day operations of the NMC and other regulators are set out in legislation that is subject to the agreement of Parliament.

But the changes would give regulators the power to make more adjustments to their own operating procedures without having to go through Parliament, which should lead to more responsive regulation. 

Measures will be put in place to ensure greater accountability and transparency, including requirements to update patients and family members on the progress of fitness to practise cases.  

Earlier this year, the Professional Standards Authority review into NMC performance found that there was a need for better engagement with family members who have been affected by poor professional standards.  

Health minister Stephen Hammond said: ‘We are delivering on our commitment to modernise professional regulation.  

‘These changes will allow regulators to dedicate more of their resources to supporting the professionals working in our NHS and contribute to safe, high-quality patient care.' 

Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive of the NMC, welcomed the move to improve ‘prescriptive and onerous’ legislation.  

She said: ‘I’m really glad the response set out today recognises that and will enable us to operate with greater flexibility and autonomy – shaping our regulatory requirements more easily through guidance and policy, rather than detailed rules – which will be so much better for everyone involved. 

‘It’s also pleasing to see today’s proposals chime with the work we are already doing to transform our approach to fitness to practise, focusing on looking at cases in a more proportionate, effective, efficient and person-centred way and treating everyone involved with dignity, respect and kindness.’ 

Bronagh Scott, Royal College of Nursing (RCN) interim director of nursing policy and practice, also welcomed the changes. 

He added: ‘Making quicker decisions in fitness to practise cases will benefit both patients, and nursing staff who find themselves at the centre of an investigation. 

‘We are also pleased to see the move to a less punitive, more efficient and more supportive system of regulation.    

‘While the protection of patients must remain the overriding goal of the regulatory system, the fairer approach outlined will make the whole process and experience for patients and staff more bearable -quicker resolution will benefit all involved.’