The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council Dickon Weir-Hughes has resigned from his post with immediate effect.

Professor Weir-Hughes has been on sick leave since 16 December but has resigned from his post for “personal reasons”, according to a source at the nursing regulator.

NMC director of fitness to practise Jackie Smith has been acting chief executive since then and will continue to do, the regulator said.

In a statement issued this morning, NMC chair Tony Hazell said: “After a period of sick leave, professor Dickon Weir-Hughes, has decided to resign from his position as chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council and leave with immediate effect.

“We would like to express our thanks for his contribution to the NMC and wish him well for the future.

He added: “In December 2011, the NMC announced its arrangements for managing the organisation during professor Weir Hughes’ sickness absence.

Jackie Smith, director of fitness for practice, will continue as acting chief executive and registrar until the council decides its future arrangements.”

Professor Weir-Hughes joined the NMC as chief executive and registrar on 2 November 2009.

During his period of office, he has been an advocate of the need for tighter regulation of healthcare assistants. He was quoted in the Times last September as having said hospital wards could face a “ghastly national disaster” because of a growing number of unregulated HCAs.

But in a letter to Nursing Times last week, professor Hazell “clarified” the NMC’s position on regulating HCAs, appearing to row back from earlier comments made by professor Weir-Hughes.

He wrote: “The council has discussed this matter on a number of occasions and has acknowledged the importance of enhanced protection for patients. However, to date there has been no formal policy decision by the council regarding the nature of any proposed regulation.” 

Prior to his appointment at the NMC professor Weir-Hughes was executive director of nursing at Barking, Havering & Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.

He was chief nurse and deputy chief executive at the Royal Marsden Hospital from 1998 to 2007.

Nursing Times has learned the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence is likely to carry out a strategic review of the regulator.

CHRE chief executive Harry Cayton said: “I think it would be very valuable to have a review and we’re working with the NMC about how they might prepare for the appointment of a new chief executive.”

A series of reviews into the NMC have taken place in recent years, mainly focussing on the large backlog of fitness to practise cases.

A CHRE audit of the regulator in November found the NMC was starting to make improvements but continued to have “areas of significant weaknesses” in its handling of fitness to practise cases.

Royal College of Nursing chief executive and general secretary Peter Carter said: “I would like to take this opportunity to wish Dickon well for the future and to express my thanks for his work during his tenure at the NMC.

“This is a crucial time for the regulator, and I would also like to express my hope that a permanent successor can be found swiftly.”