The proposed five-year time limit for Fitness to Practice (FtP) hearings has sparked concern from the NMC.
The proposal is part of the government's response to the draft Regulation of Health and Social Care Professions Bill, which was published by the Law Commission in April 2014. The change in legislation would enable the NMC to introduce a range of reforms on how nurses and other healthcare professionals are regulated. Under the proposals, the NMC would be unable to follow up with a FtP hearing five years after the accusation had been made.
An NMC spokeswoman said: 'We are concerned that the government supports the proposal for a five-year time limit on complaints about fitness-to-practice. We recognise that it is subject to a public interest exception, but we do not think any such time limit is appropriate or necessary,' she said.
Roz Hooper, the RCN's principal legal officer, said: 'The NMC should be encouraged to deal with cases in a timely way as proposed by the Law Commission following consultation. This is better for patients and nurses, as it ensures fair and accurate findings. This would bring the NMC in line with other regulators such as the GMC, and importantly includes a safeguard that the time limit can be exceeded if it is in the public interest to do so.'
The legislative changes are centred on the reform of the current FtP system. The NMC wants to adopt a system similar to the GMC's, which would allow them to reduce the number of FtP actions they handle each year. The NMC currently spends 80 per cent of its budget on FtP, with every final hearing costing approximately £13,000. The NMC receives approximately 4000 referrals a year. Of these, 1756 progressed to final hearings in 2013-14.
The NMC's chief executive Jackie Smith said: 'The organisation has found itself continually constrained by a legal framework that tied it to inefficient practices.'