On 4th April, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) launched a consultation regarding their proposal to hear the majority of fitness to practise cases in private. The consultation can be found on the NMC’s website.
The NMC currently concludes the vast majority of fitness to practise cases with a full public hearing. This means that members of the public, including the press, are allowed to attend the hearing. Witnesses are called to give evidence and are asked questions by the NMC’s lawyers and the registrant’s lawyers, or the registrant if they are representing themselves. This is an adversarial process which can be difficult for the registrant, as well as for any witnesses.
The NMC reports receiving 5500 complaints about nurses and midwives a year. The highest number of complaints come from employers, then from members of the public and then from self-referrals. Currently, only about 25% of fitness to practise cases are concluded without a full public hearing, such as in meetings, via a consensual panel disposal or voluntary removal.
The NMC proposes that going forward, they wish to conclude the majority of fitness to practise hearings in private, resorting to full public hearings only in exceptional cases. Exceptional cases will involve circumstances such as a serious dispute about the facts or at the registrant’s request. The NMC wishes to resolve the majority of cases in meetings, where neither party is represented and the Panel makes their decisions just by looking at the relevant documentation.
The NMC has stated that the benefits of the proposed change include shortening the amount of time taken between commencing and concluding fitness to practise investigations, reducing the stress of fitness to practise hearings on registrants and encouraging registrants to be more open about their mistakes. The NMC’s new proposals also represent a cost saving exercise; as concluding fitness to practise cases with meetings rather than full public hearings will be significantly cheaper.
Those against the NMC’s proposals argue that they will result in the regulator being less transparent with the public and registrants. Some organisations have described the proposals as a move to the NMC concluding investigations in secret, behind closed doors.
There is a move within healthcare regulators, to try and facilitate a more learning-based culture, to enable registrants to learn from mistakes, supporting them to address concerns about their practice.
The NMC’s consultation has been controversial, but they have stated that their proposal remains just that and is not a done deal. The consultation remains open until 12pm on 30th May 2018.