The nursing regulator has urged the government to introduce a bill to transform healthcare regulation in the Queen’s speech this week.
The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Jackie Smith told HSJ she was worried the NMC would be left operating under “woefully inadequate legislation” if a bill to reform healthcare rules was not included in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday.
Ms Smith said the NMC needed a regulatory regime similar to the one used by the General Medical Council. Its current regulatory regime was “expensive, time-consuming and cumbersome” and forced it to hold unnecessary and expensive fitness to practise hearings.
If allowed to continue, the regulator would not be able to “rule out further cost to registrants” through increased registration fees.
Last year the NMC, which had a deficit of £7m last year, held close to 2,000 hearings compared with the GMC’s total of approximately 300.
Following the publication of the Francis report last year, prime minister David Cameron asked the Law Commission “to advise on sweeping away the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s outdated and inflexible decision-making process”.
And while the commission unveiled a draft bill for a new single legal framework for the regulation of all health and social care professionals in April, sources have told HSJ it is unlikely to be included in the legislative programme.
Ms Smith said: “The problem is we are in the run up to an election and there are competing priorities and this may not be at the top of their list and I think that is a missed opportunity.
“Whilst the publication of the Francis report was a difficult day for everyone involved in healthcare, for us there was a glimmer of light because finally someone was going to advise the government on what we believe is woefully inadequate legislation.”
The commission’s proposed changes would give the NMC the ability to make decisions faster and agree undertakings with nurses who accept their practise may be impaired without the need to hold a full hearing.
However the Professional Standards Authority, which oversees its work, said it feared the commission’s bill would be a “backward step” with less decisions made in public and changes that would make misconduct harder to prove in cases older than five years.
Ms Smith said the NMC was not interested in “doing deals behind closed doors” saying: “I couldn’t agree more with the principle of holding people to account for their actions but regulators are not here to punish.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the government was committed to changing the law on healthcare regulation when “parliamentary time allows.”