First published article – NMC Fitness to Practice Hearing

I had a very pleasant surprise this week. As a student member of the UK Royal College of Nursing I am one of 40,000 nursing students who receive a copy of their free ‘RCN Students’ magazine. As I was leafing through the pages I caught sight of my name on page 10 and below that an article I had sent to them a while back. This is my first article published in print! I have copied the text below but I also recommend reading what other student nurses have written, one adventurous student writes of her elective placement experience in Tanzania.

You can access a PDF of the RCN Students magazine here: https://www.rcn.org.uk/development/students/getinvolved/RCN_students

Having recently observed a Nursing and Midwifery Council* (NMC) fitness to practise hearing, I feel I could write pages explaining the process but here it is in a nutshell: the NMC gathers evidence and presents a case against a registered nurse or midwife. The registrant can choose to have legal representation. The outcomes of the hearing are decided by an independent three-person panel. At least one panel member must be an NMC registrant; the others are lay members. The panel is assisted by a legally qualified legal assessor who offers guidance on points of law but all judgements are made by the three-person panel.

At the hearing I attended, the registrant had no representation and was not present. She had been dismissed from her job before the hearing began and perhaps this influenced her decision not to attend.

The NMC presented its case, attempting to prove to the panel that the allegations were true. Evidence included patient notes, statements from the ward’s doctors and nurses and – interestingly – a piece of reflective writing from the nurse herself in which she responded to the allegations. So, if you think writing a reflection is a waste of time, think again: it might save your career one day.

A 12-month suspension order was applied to the nurse by the panel, but unless the registrant demonstrates that she has learnt from her mistakes, that order may be extended. The panel suggested a written reflection could be submitted as proof of remediation.

When the NMC calls a registrant as a witness at a hearing, they must attend or they could face a hearing of their own. Such a threat certainly does little to make the experience any less intimidating. The witnesses I saw were clearly very anxious, especially when answering the sometimes quite tough questioning of the panel. The alleged incident had occurred two years earlier yet these witnesses were being grilled on whether or not specific documents had been signed. At times it felt as if the witnesses themselves were on trial, although I can appreciate the need for all facts to be brought out into the open.

Fitness to practise hearings are held in public as a matter of course and I’m sure that attending one is an experience that would benefit any nursing student. The hearing was a visceral learning experience that was very pertinent to my current studies. Being told by a lecturer that every document is a legal document is one thing; seeing witnesses questioned on the precise meaning of their entries in a patient’s notes, written two years earlier, really brought that lesson home.

Alex is a nursing student at Manchester Metropolitan University

*The NMC is the UK Government body responsible for regulating nurses and midwives in the UK.

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