The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to be granted new powers by the government to allow it to re-open closed fitness to practise cases, HSJ can reveal.
The move is part of the Department of Health’s response to the Francis Report and follows criticism of the regulator’s handling of the case of former Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust director of nursing Helen Moss.
The NMC’s investigating committee concluded Ms Moss had “no case to answer”. Currently cases closed down early by an investigating committee do not go to a fitness to practise panel and the committee’s decision cannot be challenged by either the NMC or the Professional Standards Authority which oversees its work.
However, a recent audit by the PSA found the investigation committee had reached the wrong conclusion on Ms Moss.
HSJ has also learned the NMC took legal advice on whether it could re-open the case but current regulations would not allow it.
Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC told HSJ she had been pushing for extra powers since she joined the regulator in 2010.
She said: “We don’t have the power to overturn an investigation committee decision, we can’t. This is why the Prime Minister made comments last year about our outdated inflexible legal framework needing to change.”
The Department of Health plans to consult on plans to grant the NMC new legal powers to re-open “no case to answer” decisions in the next few months.
It will also seek views on whether the NMC should be able to use trained case examiners in place of investigating committees to rule on whether there is a case to answer in some circumstances. It is hoped this procedure, which is used by the General Medical Council, will streamline the NMC’s handling of cases.
The NMC hopes the new powers will be in place by the end of the year however they will not apply to past decisions, including the findings in the case of Ms Moss.
Ms Moss was director of nursing at the scandal hit trust from December 2006 to 2009. She told the Francis inquiry she was aware of staff shortages and a “closed culture” at Stafford Hospital but a report detailing the need for investment in staff was not presented to the trust board for fear it would affect its application for foundation trust status.
Ms Moss’ predecessor Jan Harry was ultimately struck off the NMC register for putting patients at risk due to staff shortages.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “Where there are failings by a member of staff, they must be held to account. We are now working with the NMC on a number of proposals. We are due to consult on this soon and want to legislate as quickly as possible.”