The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to be more “proactive” in its policing of poor nursing care, including carrying out inspections of trusts, the regulator’s new chief executive has told HSJ.

Dickon Weir-Hughes, who took up post at the start of November, said the NMC should investigate trusts if it suspected problems and if concerns were justified suspend their training role and strike off staff.

We’d really like to be in there at the beginning with the CQC rather than on the back foot

An NMC investigation of this type has happened only once in the past - at North West London Hospitals Trust in 2005, which was prompted by a negative report on maternity services from the Care Quality Commission’s predecessor the Healthcare Commission.

The new proactive approach will look at doing this more regularly. Professor Weir-Hughes said NMC investigations could be prompted by anything that “creates a concern” and should be triggered where several sources - including press reports - suggest there is a problem.

He also said he wanted to be alerted when the CQC suspected poor nursing care, so inspectors from both bodies would visit trusts together.

“We’d really like to be in there at the beginning with the CQC rather than on the back foot,” Professor Weir-Hughes said. The NMC is seeking to agree a “memorandum of understanding” with the CQC.

Additionally, he emphasised the responsibility of nurse leaders and managers to tackle poor care and, if they cannot, to report it to their board or contact regional nursing directors.

He said: “The bottom line is nurses and midwives are expected to make care of patients their first priority regardless of where they are in the hierarchy.”

Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence chief executive Harry Cayton said the change was a significant move towards better checks on quality of care.

He said: “We think regulators should be more active in working with employers to identify areas of weakness.”

A CQC spokeswoman said the regulator was in discussions with the NMC over the development of a memorandum of understanding.