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NMC chief steps down

The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council has resigned, ahead of the publication of a review into the regulator’s handling of the Morecambe Bay maternity scandal.

Jackie Smith is resigning after six years as chief executive of the nursing regulator and will leave her post at the end of July.

The NMC has not given a reason for her resignation this week, other than that it was “the right time for someone else to take the organisation forward”. However, well placed sources indicated to HSJ that it was linked to the forthcoming report.

The regulator has been investigated by the Professional Standards Authority over its handling of the Morecambe Bay scandal, its response to concerns about midwives at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust, and its treatment of families.

The review is due to be published on Wednesday. It was commissioned last year by health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt after the NMC took almost eight years to make decisions about midwives accused of poor care at UHMB.

Hunt’s century

Jeremy Hunt should by now have completed 100 visits to NHS trusts as part of his pledge to visit all trusts to talk specifically about patient safety.

These visits are not the usual stage managed political visits. They are designed, as Mr Hunt told HSJ, to “send a message” to the trust’s leadership and staff that patient safety must remain a priority. That it is Mr Hunt’s priority.

HSJ observed a recent visit to Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust. Mr Hunt spoke for 40 minutes, starting with some examples of patient harm that clearly convinced him safety was what would define his time at the Department of Health, post-Francis report. He explained why he believed imposing the Care Quality Commission ratings system was right and why he did not support other changes, such as minimum staffing ratios for nurses.

Mr Hunt has the air of a minister who knows he’s on borrowed time – as he told the audience, he will not be health secretary forever. But as he approaches being the longest serving secretary of state for health, Mr Hunt has a confidence that can only come from having successfully told the prime minister he is not going to be moved and being immersed in his brief for half a decade.

It’s not a bad thing for a health secretary to have such a focus on safety and be at the height of their powers. Many have failed to really grasp this part of their role. Perhaps, the only benefit of the Lansley reforms was to make it easier for the health secretary to become effectively the patient in chief – which Mr Hunt is clearly enjoying.

But many challenges remain on patient safety despite the substantial progress being made. Mr Hunt will need to marshal all his experience to ensure the government’s austerity measures do not reveal the temple to safety, which he has been so keen to construct, is built on sand. His lobbying for a longer term funding settlement and an end to the 1 per cent pay cap suggest he knows this too.