• Professional Standards Authority will review NMC’s handling of witnesses and complaints
  • Review will also consider regulator’s response to FOI requests from patients
  • Health secretary ordered the review after criticism of the NMC

A regulator’s handling of witnesses and freedom of information requests are being put under the spotlight in an inquiry ordered by the health secretary.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has been criticised for its handling of cases linked to the Morecambe Bay maternity care scandal, after it took almost eight years to reach decisions on cases. At least one case a baby died after mistakes by a midwife who continued practising years after complaints were raised about her conduct.

James Titcombe

James Titcombe: ‘The NMC failed to fulfil its core purpose’

The Professional Standards Authority has been asked to carry out a review of the NMC’s actions by Jeremy Hunt after the Department of Health and the PSA expressed concerns.

The review will be led by the PSA director of scrutiny and quality Mark Stobbs.

Its terms of reference said it will review the handling by the NMC of complaints against midwives from University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Foundation Trust following events in 2008.

Factors will include:

  • the NMC’s approach to managing the complaints;
  • administration of the cases; and
  • relationship management with witnesses, registrants and other key stakeholders.

The review will identify lessons for regulators and make recommendations if necessary to change processes and approach.

The PSA said: “The review will not look at the substance of the NMC’s decisions or its panels’ decisions on the facts of individual cases and whether to proceed with them. It will look particularly at matters of patient protection, the NMC’s communications with families, including the NMC’s handling of recent subject access and freedom of information requests.”

The health secretary ordered the review after criticism of the NMC, which was accused of “lamentable failures” by Bill Kirkup, who led the original inquiry into poor care at Morecambe Bay.

The PSA described decisions by the NMC as “deficient” after two midwives were cleared of alleged misconduct linked one baby’s death. The fitness to practise panel was not presented with relevant evidence.

The regulator spent almost £240,000 employing a law firm to redact information after a routine Data Protection Act request from James Titcombe, whose son Joshua died as a result of failings at UHMB in 2008.

The NMC has also chosen not to release a report it commissioned examining its decisions over the fitness to practise of midwife Lindsey Biggs, who was involved in Joshua’s care but allowed to continue working. She was sacked by the trust last year after another baby died. She was struck off after an NMC panel found her conduct fell well below expected standards.

Mr Titcombe said: “It’s clear to anyone aware of the events at Morecambe Bay that the NMC, over a considerable period, failed to fulfil its core purpose – to protect the public. If we are going to avoid similar events happening again, it’s vital to understand the reasons why the NMC got this so wrong and what needs to change in future to ensure professional regulation is fit for purpose.

“If the PSA get this right, I’m certain the findings and learning from this review will be far reaching and important.”

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith has acknowledged the regulator took too long to deal with the cases after it delayed decisions while other investigations took place.

An NMC spokesman said: “We have worked closely with the PSA and the DH to agree the terms of reference for this review which is now underway. We are committed to working closely with the PSA to ensure that they have everything they need to carry out this review.”

The review is expected to take six months.