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07 June 2018

Fitness To Practice Hearings Must Be Held in Public, NMA Stresses

Fitness to practice hearings must be kept public in order to avoid undermining public trust in nursing as the regulator continues to endure intense scrutiny, the News Media Association has stressed.

Responding to a Nursing and Midwifery Council consultation, which contains proposals to reduce the circumstances in which public hearings would be held for fitness to practice proceedings, the NMA said closed proceedings “generates the risk of cover up.”

“Only by publicly addressing all allegations of misconduct can the NMC and the nursing profession rebuild the public confidence that they have lost through the secrecy and lack of transparency that endangered and harmed the lives of many patients,” the NMA said.

“Covering up mistakes and other misconduct greatly undermines public faith in the profession and puts patients at significant risk because issues of competence cannot be dealt with. That is why it is so important that complaints and allegations of misconduct are handled publicly with the decisions published. Any type of closed procedure generates the risk of cover up that lowers public trust and undermines patient safety.”

The consultation proposed ways to improve the NMC’s handling of complaints and competency concerns about nurses and midwives to improve protection of patients and public trust.

The consultation is part of a larger strategy to improve the NMC as a regulator, which has been under intense scrutiny following the Morecombe Bay midwifery scandal and subsequent public inquiry which found that the deaths of eleven babies and one mother between 2004 and 2013 at a single hospital were avoidable and the result of a “lethal mix” of failings, including the failing of the NMC’s investigations.

The consultation proposed measures that included reducing the circumstances in which there would be a public hearing held, and restricting the circumstances in which decisions should be published to when they resulted in a restriction being placed on a nurse’s practice.

The NMA emphasised that only through public decision taking and transparency could the NMC restore the public trust that it has lost, a view supported by the Professional Standards Authority in its recent report, which noted “very serious concerns” about “whether [the NMC] is a transparent, open organisation.”

The NMA and the Campaign for Freedom of Information provided advice to The Mail in Cumbria which recently won an 18-month battle for transparency calling on the Nursing and Midwifery Council to release a review looking at the regulator's decision not to suspend a midwife involved in the care of the two babies who died.