A former health minister has urged the government to probe whistleblower concerns about the UK’s nursing regulator exposed by The Independent.
Labour MP Sir Ben Bradshaw has written to the Department of Health and Social Care, the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), urging them to investigate serious allegations against the regulator: the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
These include claims of staff accused of serious sexual, physical and racial abuse being allowed to keep working on wards. The shocking concerns came in a dossier leaked to The Independent. It uncovered a secret report that warned last year that the regulator had a “culture of fear” in which its own staff were afraid to raise concerns.
Allegations from a senior whistleblower also claimed racism within the NMC is going unaddressed and is impacting how it regulates complaints against nurses and midwives.
In letters, which were also sent to the NMC and the Charity Commission, Sir Ben, who has seen a copy of the dossier, said the whistleblower allegations were similar to the same issues raised in 2008, which he had commissioned a review into.
In a statement to The Independent, Sir Ben said: “I am extremely concerned to see many of the same issues which led me to commission the CHRE report in 2008 are still being raised today. I am grateful to the individual who has taken the decision to blow the whistle and I hope this will prompt serious reflection and significant improvements.
“I have written to the Charity Commission, the EHRC, the PSA and the government, as well as the NMC, to request details of the steps being taken to investigate and respond to these documents.”
The Charity Commission, which also regulates the NMC, has confirmed it has now opened a case to investigate the allegations.
The 2008 review, carried out by the former Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (which became the PSA), found the NMC’s fitness to practise processes, and the way in which it decided on complaints, were not robust enough to protect the public.
It also warned about delays in investigations and that it was not clear or transparent in its decision making.
In the leaked dossier, the senior whistleblower warned that the NMC was lacking transparency and had not shared The Independent’s exposé into its “culture of fear” despite promises to do so.
In response to The Independent’s story, the NMC said it intends to commission an independent review into the concerns raised, with an external expert to lead it. The appointment is yet to be confirmed. It has also since published a summary of the independent report from May 2022, revealed by The Independent.
Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence’s wide-ranging 2008 report into our performance and culture acknowledged the progress we had made at that time and our commitments to further improve. While we have seen significant change within our organisation since then, I’m very sorry that there are concerns about our culture today.”
“We know we have much more to do to create the safe and inclusive environment that supports each of our colleagues to thrive and fulfil our purpose of protecting the public. To help us get there, we’re appointing independent experts to conduct rigorous reviews of the concerns raised and advise on the further steps we need to take to embed the sustainable change we want to achieve. We’ll be transparent about the findings, recommendations and our action plan.”
In 2018, the Professional Standards Authority published a review into the NMC’s handling of complaints against midwives at Morecambe Bay Hospital following a scandal which found 16 babies had died due to poor care. It was one of the first major maternity scandals to hit the NHS.
The PSA’s review found the NMC did not follow up on or take seriously complaints against midwives at the hospital.
In response to questions from The Independent, the PSA said it had contacted the whistleblower and would respond to Sir Ben.
A Charity Commission spokesperson said: “We have received information detailing a number of serious concerns relating to the governance of the Nursing and Midwifery Council. We have opened a regulatory compliance case to further assess this information and to determine our next steps alongside other bodies. In line with our guidance, the charity has submitted a serious incident report to us on this matter.”
A spokesperson for the EHRC said it considers all complaints carefully and takes action where appropriate.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We understand that the Nursing and Midwifery Council will be thoroughly investigating these concerning reports.”