Ministers have been challenged to make urgent changes to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s powers in order to improve public protection – as it emerged just 13 nurses are currently facing sanctions in relation to the high profile care failings at Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust.
The regulator currently has no powers to review decisions by its panels to close cases when they decide there is no case to answer – even where fresh evidence comes to light.
Prime minister David Cameron announced plans to ask the Law Commission to review the NMC’s powers earlier this month, in response to the Mid Staffordshire Foundation Trust Public Inquiry report.
However, the review is not likely to finish till 2014 and it could then take years for its recommendations to be implemented.
John Healey, Labour MP for Rotherham and former shadow health secretary, last week called on the government to act now, highlighting that other professional regulators such as the General Medical Council already had similar powers.
“This delay is unacceptable and urgent action is needed now to improve public confidence and put nurses and midwives on a par with other professions,” he said.
In a letter to health secretary Jeremy Hunt, published last week, NMC chair Mark Addison said he hoped the government would put the new powers in place “significantly in advance” of the completion of the Law Commission’s review.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “We will consider the points raised in the Rt Hon John Healey’s letter and will respond to him in due course.”
Mr Addison also responded to Mr Cameron’s demand on 6 February that the NMC explain why no nurses had been struck off in relation to the failings at Mid Staffordshire.
Registered midwife Bonka Kostava, who was working as a healthcare assistant at the trust, has subsequently been struck off since Mr Cameron’s remarks.
Of the other 55 referrals relating to Mid Staffs, 12 are still to face a public hearing – including the trust’s former director of nursing Jan Harry. Many of the referrals are scheduled to take place this month.
However, an NMC panel found there was no case to answer in 37 cases and a tribunal judged a further two nurses’ Fitness to Practise was not impaired. Three more referrals are still being screened.