In a report published today, the House of Commons Health Committee welcomes improvements in the performance of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) over the last year, but expresses continuing concern that the progress made so far remains fragile.
The Committee emphasises that it is important to ensure that the new challenges facing the NMC do not become a distraction from the continuing requirement to improve its performance of its core functions.
The report is the first example of a Health Committee review of a professional regulator which builds on the work of the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). The PSA gave evidence to the Committee in July; the Committee is grateful for the evidence of the PSA which provided a valuable independent point of view about the service delivered by the NMC.
Fitness to practise cases
The length of time the NMC takes to conclude its fitness to practise cases has been an enduring concern for the Committee. From 2015, the NMC proposes to toughen the target period for resolving fitness to practise cases to 15 months. The MPs welcome this target and urge the NMC to commit themselves to delivering this objective in every case.
The Committee also welcomes the commitment of the NMC to further reduce the target period to 12 months, provided necessary legislative changes are introduced. The Committee urges the Government and NMC to work together to achieve these changes before the end of 2014.
The NMC has announced plans to introduce a system of revalidation by the end of 2015. Although welcoming this commitment, the NMC's plans are still at an early stage, and the Committee will therefore seek an update on progress in this specific area at the end of the first quarter of 2014.
The Francis Report into the failings at Mid Staffs examined the role of regulators, including the NMC, in detail. The Report stresses the importance of ensuring firstly that registrants understand their professional obligation to raise concerns when they see evidence of poor patient care, and secondly that patients and public are made more aware of the role of the NMC as the regulator of professional and clinical standards.
The Committee heard evidence from the Chief Executive of the NMC that, on these issues, “there are many things that we can do better”. The Committee agrees and urges the NMC to take urgent steps to raise the profile of the NMC both among its registrants and among patients and public.
While determining and monitoring staffing levels are not direct responsibilities of the NMC, health professionals who have concerns about staffing levels have a professional obligation to raise these concerns in an appropriate manner, and the NMC must make this clear to its registrants.
The issue of appropriate language controls for health professionals continues to cause the Committee concern. High quality care requires that staff can communicate effectively with patients, and the Department of Health must ensure that EU legislation is amended to support, rather than obstruct, this essential principle.
Launching the report, the Chair of the Health Committee, Stephen Dorrell MP, said:
“The Committee has undertaken annual reviews of the work of the NMC since the beginning of this Parliament.
The NMC has had a troubled recent history, and while we welcome the evidence that there has been an improvement in its performance, it is essential that the new challenges it now faces do not cause the NMC to take its eye off the ball.
Following the publication of the Francis report, all aspects of healthcare are facing increasing scrutiny; the pressure is therefore on for the NMC to demonstrate to an increasingly sceptical public that it can function effectively to underwrite clinical standards.
The Committee will review the progress made by the NMC with its plans for revalidation during Spring 2014 and we shall conduct a further full review in Autumn 2014”.