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NMC needs to address ‘serious concerns about transparency’

The body that oversees the nine healthcare regulators in the UK has told the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) that there are serious concerns over whether it is an open, transparent organisation.

The Professional Standards Authority’s review into how the NMC handled the cases brought against midwives at Furness General Hospital – where failings at the hospital led to 11 babies and one mother died between 2004 and 2013 – has concluded that the NMC needs to ‘urgently review and improve’ it’s approach to transparency about its errors and its approach to dealing with individuals.

The PSA criticised the NMC’s response to the initial complaint against registrants, reporting that it took the regulator more than eight years from the first complaint to final fitness to practise hearing. This allowed midwives who were subsequently struck off or suspended to continue practising for a number of years after the incident.

They also accused the NMC of:

  • ‘Frequently incompetent’ handling of the cases before 2014.
  • Failing to act upon information that could have been followed up.
  • A lack of clinical knowledge in its Fitness to Practise teams and external lawyers.
  • Failing to engage with information provided by Cumbria police, in particular, a list of cases provided by the police that was ignored for almost two years.
  • Not engaging with points raised by the families involved.
  • Failing to investigate evidence of dishonesty by the midwives involved soon enough, despite having material to look at as early as 2010.

The report states that the NMC has made major changes to its organisation and processes in the years covered by the review, which they believe ‘have the potential to reduce the risk of many of the concerns arising again’.

The NMC welcomed the publication of the review, with outgoing chief executive Jackie Smith claiming that the NMC’s approach was ‘unacceptable’.

She said: ‘The NMC’s approach to the Morecambe Bay cases – in particular the way we communicated with the families – was unacceptable and I am truly sorry for this.

‘We take the findings of this review extremely seriously and we’re committed to improving the way we communicate with families, witnesses and all those involved in the fitness to practise process.

‘Since 2014 we’ve made significant changes to improve the way we work and as the report recognises, we’re now a very different organisation.

‘The changes we’ve made puts vulnerable witnesses and families affected by failings in care at the heart of our work. But we know that there is much more to do.’

Earlier in the week, Ms Smith announced her resignation from the NMC. She will step down from her position in July.