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Proposed laws could 'revolutionise' the NMC

A single, clear and consistent legal framework is needed to enable the healthcare regulators to uphold their duty to protect public safety an official report has claimed. 

The report from the Law Commissions of the UK recommends a single stature that would provide regulators with new powers and duties, and set them a clear main objective of protecting the public.

New powers would allow regulators, such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the General Medical Council (GMC) to proactively investigate poor conduct. 

At the moment, some regulators can only investigate when they receive a formal complaint. 

The new framework would also give regulators the power to make their own rules, following public consultation. Currently, regulators wanting to change rules for their profession, for example on education requirements, must apply to government, which can take up to two years.

If implemented, the Commissions' reforms would also implement the recommendations of the public inquiry into the scandal at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust (the Francis report) that the regulators should have wider powers to investigate poor professional practice and to reconsider cases that have been closed following a mistake or error. 

Nicholas Paines QC, the Law Commissioner leading the project for England and Wales, said: “Our recommended reforms place patient protection firmly at the heart of a new legal framework. If implemented, they will enhance the autonomy of the regulators, empower them to respond more quickly and effectively to emerging public health concerns and enable them to meet the demands of a modern, devolved health and social care sector.”

Patrick Layden QC TD, leading the project for the Scottish Law Commission, said: “A single statute governing the regulation of health and social care professionals will bring consistency and certainty to a legal framework that is currently fragmented, complex and expensive."

Leading the project for Northern Ireland, Judena Goldring said: “The regulators have a duty to act in a way that promotes and protects the health, safety and well-being of the public. But they are hampered in their efforts to do so by the shortcomings of the legal framework within which they operate.

“Our recommendations would bring much needed reform, enhancing the power of the regulators to provide flexible and responsive forms of regulation that promote high professional standards and protect public safety”.

The report includes a draft Bill, which could enshrine the proposed changes in law. 

Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC said: “We welcome the publication of this potentially revolutionary Bill. However, this is the very first step on a long road to seeing this bill implemented and becoming law.

“The Bill would give flexibility, particularly in our fitness to practise processes which are numerous, time consuming and expensive. We need to be able to modernise our approach if we are to meet our target to conclude 90 percent of our cases within 15 months, as we have committed. It would also give all nine healthcare profession regulators powers to work more closely with each other and to share certain functions if desired; a key recommendation from the Francis Inquiry report.

“I would strongly urge the government to include this bill in the timetable for the last parliamentary session. Without it the NMC cannot modernise its “outdated and inflexible” decision making processes. We will work with the Department of Health to finalise the bill to ensure it delivers the flexibility we need.”