The nursing regulator has committed to a ‘rigorous, transparent and independent’ response to serious concerns raised about its culture and handling of some fitness to practise (FtP) cases, as it launches three external investigations.
In a blog post published on the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) website today, chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe apologised for the concerns that had come to light in The Independent online newspaper and announced the appointment of a leading barrister to help investigate the claims.
Last month, the newspaper reported that nurses and midwives accused of serious sexual, physical and racial abuse had been allowed to keep working on wards because whistleblowers were ‘being ignored’ by the NMC.
The report also claimed that ‘deep-seated toxic conduct’ within the NMC was leading to skewed and failed investigations.
‘Together with my executive colleagues and our council, I’ve reflected deeply on the recent articles in The Independent about the way we’ve handled some of our FtP cases, especially those involving discrimination, racism, sexual misconduct, child protection and safeguarding,’ said Ms Sutcliffe today.
‘I’m more determined than ever for the NMC to fully embed a safe and inclusive working environment that supports all our colleagues to thrive, and delivers effectively on our primary purpose of protecting the public.’
She added that she was ‘sorry anyone has concerns about our culture, and the regulatory decisions we take’ and that the NMC was ‘committed to a rigorous, transparent and independent response to the concerns’.
Ijeoma Omambala KC will lead two investigations in the coming months – one into the way the nursing regulator has responded to the concerns raised and another into the FtP cases highlighted within those concerns.
With a legal career spanning more than 30 years, Ms Omambala has investigated high-profile discrimination and whistleblowing claims, and Ms Sutcliffe said she was ‘absolutely confident she’s the right person to provide the independent scrutiny we need’.
Alongside Ms Ombambala’s work, a third external investigation will also ‘focus on the concerns raised about our culture’, noted Ms Sutcliffe.
The NMC chief executive also highlighted work being carried out to update its guidance for decision makers in cases involving sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and safeguarding issues, and said this would be ready in February.
‘In the meantime, we’re already clear that this kind of conduct is unacceptable, and our hearings outcomes show any proven allegations of this nature will be treated extremely seriously,’ added Ms Sutcliffe.
In terms of the nursing regulator’s culture, Ms Sutcliffe went on to apologise to ‘anyone who has personally suffered or observed racism or sexism, bullying or harassment at the NMC’.
‘That’s not everyone’s experience as many colleagues have told me, but we must have a zero-tolerance approach for everyone’s benefit,’ she said.
In addition, she acknowledged the importance of creating ‘the right environment for each colleague to progress in their career’ and to ensure ‘a transparent and learning organisation, where colleagues can confidently raise issues, knowing we’ll act to improve’.
While highlighting the ‘range of ways’ colleagues can speak up and seek support at the NMC, Ms Sutcliffe recognised that ‘some colleagues still do not feel safe to speak up about their concerns’.
‘The experiences of some of my colleagues from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds have not been good enough, and I know people feel let down by slow progress,’ she added.
‘Supported by our internal advisory group, we must do more to make our working environment and experiences for colleagues the best they can be.’
In making a ‘personal commitment’, Ms Sutcliffe stressed it was her job to ‘make a difference for people whose health and wellbeing rely on safe, kind and effective nursing and midwifery care’.
‘I want to support our professionals to provide that care, and to lead an inclusive, fair and values-driven employer,’ she added.
‘There’s much more to do to instil full trust and confidence in us as we work toward this aim.
‘We need to ask ourselves the hard questions, acting quickly and transparently where we need to improve.
‘I promise we’ll listen, learn and most importantly act, responding to the concerns with care, rigour and a commitment to keeping people safe.’
The Charity Commission has also this month opened a regulatory compliance case after it received information detailing ‘a number of serious concerns’ about the governance of the NMC.
She noted in her blog that the organisation was in contact with the Charity Commission, which regulates the NMC, and vowed to ‘fully engage with them on this’.
Ms Sutcliffe joined the NMC as chief executive and registrar in 2019 and was previously chief inspector of adult social care at the Care Quality Commission.