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Health Friday, 7 June, 2002, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
NMC: Protecting the public
The Nursing and Midwifery Council took over responsibility for regulating nurses and midwives in 2002.

It replaced the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC) which had been in charge of the profession since 1983.

The NMC has a governing council of 35 members. Twelve nursing representatives and 11 lay representatives have voting rights.

This marks a significant change in the way nurses are regulated with patient representatives being given a greater say in how the organisation is run.

Council meets every three months and is responsible for drawing up and overseeing the NMC's overall policy.

Like the other regulatory bodies, it has two main functions - maintaining a register of nurses and disciplining those who are unfit to practise.

There are 635,000 nurses, midwives and health visitors on the NMC register.

Main responsibilities
Licensing nurses to practise in the UK
Investigating complaints against nurses
Striking nurses off it they are unfit to practise
Issuing guidelines to nurses on best practise
Setting nursing education standards
Only those with appropriate training are allowed to go on the register. Those who are not on the register are not permitted to work in the UK.

Patients, members of the public, health authorities and trusts can make complaints about individual nurses to the NMC.

The number of complaints against nurses has been rising steadily in recent years, in line with other professionals.

These complaints are investigated by a team of case officers. If they decide there is evidence of serious professional misconduct the case is referred to the NMC's preliminary proceedings committee (PPC).

This body includes members of council, outside nurses and patient representatives. They decide whether the nurse concerned has a case to answer or not.

It will not take action for cases such as a first time drinking offence, nurses occasionally arriving late for duty and one-off cases of drug administration errors where there were no serious consequences.

A case to answer

However, if the PPC believes the nurse has a case to answer they can either issue a formal warning and take no further action or they can refer the case to a formal hearing of its professional conduct committee (PCC).

If they believe that the nurse poses a very serious to patients or him or herself, they can suspend the nurse pending further investigation and a full hearing.

A hearing of the PCC is similar to a court hearing with witnesses giving evidence under oath.

Allegations of professional misconduct must be proven beyond reasonable doubt, as in a criminal court case, if a nurse is to be found guilty.

If the case is proven, the professional conduct committee can decide to:

  • issue a caution; or
  • remove the nurse from the register

    NMC facts
    Established in 2002
    Run by a council of 35 members
    One third of council members are lay representatives
    Headed by a nurse president
    Replaced the UKCC which had been operating since 1983
    Under existing law, the organisation is unable to remove an individual from the register for a minimum period.

    In practice, this means that a nurse can apply to be restored to the register and be allowed to return to work after 12 months.

    Most nurses removed from the register or guilty of either verbal, physical or sexual abuse.

    In some cases, they have failed to keep accurate records or report an incident, or they are found guilty of misadministration of drugs, theft and offences not related to work.

    The midwifery committee deals with any allegations made against midwives.

    Health problems

    If there is evidence that health problems, such as mental health or addiction problems, are to blame the case is referred to a panel of professional screeners.

    They decide whether the case should be referred to the NMCs health committee.

    The health committee aims to help the nurse to return to work by recommending rehabilitation, medical help and in some cases retraining.

    Unlike, the General Medical Council it cannot place restrictions on a nurse's practice while they deal with their health difficulties.

    The NMC is also responsible for setting education standards for nurses across the UK.

    The decisions to replace the UKCC with the NMC in 2002 was part of government efforts to improve the way the medical professions are regulated and patients are protected.

  • See also:

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