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Watchdog raises concerns over NMC backlog with Thérèse Coffey

Watchdog raises concerns over NMC backlog with Thérèse Coffey

The Professional Standards Authority (PSA) has written to health and social care secretary Thérèse Coffey to raise concerns over the NMC’s ‘significant’ backlog of fitness to practise cases.

The latest performance report published by the Government super-regulator shows that, while the NMC passed 17 out of 18 of the PSA’s standards for good regulation, it failed to meet timeline requirements for fitness to practise cases for the third year in a row.

It said it has written to Ms Coffey as part of its escalation policy, and will be ‘closely monitoring’ the NMC’s work to clear the backlog and whether performance is improving.

Responding to the publication of the PSA review, Andrea Sutcliffe CBE, chief executive and registrar, said: ‘While I’m pleased we’ve met 17 of the 18 standards of good regulation thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, I’m disappointed we haven’t been able to bring our fitness to practise caseload down as quickly as we planned.

‘We know being involved in our fitness to practise processes can be distressing for people, and we’re sorry to everyone who’s been waiting for a decision.’

The PSA noted that the outbreak of Covid had effected the NMC’s ability to clear the fitness to practise backlog, but despite implementing launching an improvement plan, there had been little to no improvement since the Covid restrictions were lifted.

In January 2019, the median time from receipt of a case to final hearing was just over 80 weeks; by the final quarter of 2022, that time had risen to almost 160 weeks. 

Likewise, in 2019-20, there were 1,500 outstanding cases over a year old but by 2021-22, there were over 3000 year old cases. The PSA warned that the average case closure time is likely to increase as the NMC attempts to clear the backlog.

While it found the failings on fitness to practise concerning, the PSA report did also highlight some the NMC’s successes from the previous year including their  equality, diversity, and inclusion work, and modernisation of pre-registration education programme standards.

Ms Sutcliffe added that ‘reducing our caseload and improving our timeliness in handling cases remain our top priorities’.

She said: ‘We’re dedicating more resources to this, recruiting new colleagues and reviewing our procedures.  We’re concentrating particularly on screening, which is the first stage of the process…

‘We remain fully focused on regulating well, supporting our professions and the public, and using our regulatory insight to influence the wider sector so safe, kind, effective nursing and midwifery care can be sustained for everyone.’

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