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NMC to investigate claims it hosts ‘culture of fear’

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has promised a “careful” investigation of claims made by a whistleblower that a “culture of fear” exists within the regulator.

Speaking to The Independent, the whistleblower claimed that the regulator’s staff were under immense pressure to meet “unachievable” targets to reduce its fitness to practise (FtP) backlog.

“I’m grateful that these concerns have been raised with us and I take them extremely seriously”

Andrea Sutcliffe

Tackling its FtP caseload has been a long-time priority for the NMC, but for four years in a row it has been criticised by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) for failing to do enough.

As of the end of August the NMC was recording 5,339 open FtP cases.

The whistleblower claimed that, inside the NMC, there was a “desperation” to decrease the FtP caseload – so much so that speed of case closure was prioritised over the proper outcomes being secured.

They said staff were scared to make mistakes or to report errors and that “dangerous decisions” were being made to close cases “at all costs”.

They raised particular concern that cases of registrants being referred to the NMC for sexual misconduct or racism had been dealt with too leniently.

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In addition, they claimed that there had been racism and sexism internally in the NMC against staff.

NMC staff, the whistleblower further alleged, were not confident to challenge “inappropriate behaviour”, describing a fear of consequences should they do so.

In a statement today responding to the claims, NMC chief executive and registrar Andrea Sutcliffe said she was “sorry” that there were concerns about the culture inside her organisation.

Ms Sutcliffe said: “It’s essential that people feel able to speak up without fear and I’m grateful that these concerns have been raised with us and I take them extremely seriously.

“Our priority is always the safety of people who use health and care services, and ensuring that is central to our fitness to practise work.

“Of course, there is absolutely no place for sexual misconduct in health and care or wider society and we are equally clear that discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated at the NMC.”

The regulator confirmed that the chair of its council was “aware” of the concerns raised, and that it was “in the process” of appointing independent investigators to look into them.

In a statement on its website, the NMC said it would be “transparent about the scope of that work and the findings”.

The NMC further noted that all final decisions made by its independent FtP panels were reviewed by its oversight body, the PSA.

However, it said it was “actively reviewing” guidance for how cases involving sexual misconduct, domestic violence, domestic abuse and safeguarding issues were dealt with.

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It added that it had “strengthened” its guidance in relation to FtP cases involving racial discrimination and that it was implementing a equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) plan for the organisation.

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