The full introduction of revalidation for nurses and midwives could be delayed in England for two years due to government fears about the current state of NHS finances.

The rollout of a major new system of competency checks, due to be implemented from April, appears to be in chaos, despite being rubber-stamped by the NMC council on 8 October.

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The DH said it ‘fully supports the principles of revalidation’

HSJ’s sister title Nursing Times has learnt that the Department of Health wants to delay the full introduction of the process for two years to protect trusts that are struggling financially.

Instead, in the interim, the department is understood to be planning to introduce a “voluntary” system for employers to provide support to registrants, with “minimal cost and no impact on taking staff from the frontline”.

An official announcement outlining the plans is expected in a letter on Saturday, probably from NHS England’s chief nursing officer.

As a result, trusts in financial difficulty will not be required by the DH to support registrants through revalidation, for example with requirements for continuing professional development – effectively creating a two tier system and potentially stalling its full introduction.

Revalidation for nurse and midwives was one of the recommendations made by the Francis report and was subsequently accepted by the previous government. A similar system is already in place for doctors.

As an independent body, the NMC can still go ahead with the introduction of revalidation.

But senior sources told Nursing Times they are concerned that the DH’s plans for voluntary rollout would cause further recruitment and retention difficulties for some trusts, if they chose not to support their staff through revalidation, while giving more financially stable trusts an advantage.  

It could also mean that registrants working in “outlier” organisations, such as cash-strapped care homes or GP practices would not be supported with the new system of checks, despite nurses in these types of setting being identified from the pilots as most likely to experience difficulties revalidating.

The DH is understood to be concerned about the extra pressure on employer budgets that supporting nurses through the new system will add to trusts, many of which are already in deficit as winter approaches.

Meanwhile, it is understood that the other three countries in the UK confirmed to the NMC earlier this month that they were largely ready to implement revalidation as plannedwith the full support of NHS organisations.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: “Revalidation goes live in April for the whole of UK, and our position on that still stands.

“I look forward to receiving official confirmation from the Department of Health about England’s position.”

Under the NMC’s plans, nurses and midwives will need to complete revalidation every three years in order for them to remain on the register and, therefore, be able to practise.

The new checks process, designed as a replacement for the post-registration education and practice system, was piloted by more than 2,000 nurses working at 19 different sites across the UK during the summer.

To revalidate successfully, the NMC’s approved guidance states that registrants will have to complete at least 450 hours of practice, compile five pieces of practice related feedback and prepare five written reflective accounts relating to the code of conduct.

A reflective discussion with another registrant is also required, as is a health and character declaration and evidence of indemnity insurance.

In addition, registrants must have all of the revalidation requirements “confirmed” and signed off by a third party - preferably their line manager but this does not have to be an NMC registrant.

Registrants will have to complete a minimum of 35 hours of continuing professional development in the three years prior to registration renewal, with 20 of these hours being participatory.

This represents a change from the original proposal of 40 hours of CPD, following feedback from organisations which tested the system and said there was no evidence of the benefits from this increase.

At its last council meeting on 8 October, the NMC said it was “confident” that, based on the results from the pilots, the introduction of revalidation was “achievable, effective and realistic”.

A spokeswoman for NHS England did not want to comment and said it was a matter for the DH.

A DH spokeswoman said: “As set out in our response to the public inquiry in to Mid Staffs, we fully support the principles of revalidation. 

“We are working with the NMC to make sure it is introduced in the right way so that it is manageable for trusts and does not divert nurse and midwives from patient care.”