The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is the UK regulatory body for nurses, midwives and nursing associates. Where the fitness to practise of any of these are called into question, they may be referred to a fitness to practise hearing. Is it always in the public interest to have these hearings in public?
As a general approach, NMC fitness to practise hearings are held in public. This serves to protect the public interest in these cases meaning that it is in the public interest for all parties involved to know 1) the NMC, as a regulatory body, is fulfilling its responsibilities properly, and 2) the public should know when a nurse, midwife or nursing associate is no longer fit to practise, why this is so and who it is.
However, the fitness to practise process recognise that it is dealing with people and as such it is important that everyone involved in the process is dealt with fairly and with dignity. As such, there are times when exceptional circumstances in a case required the fitness to practise panel to go into private session.
The NMC’s “Fitness to Practise information handling guidance” at paragraph 57 sets out the procedure and circumstances that may deem a private session appropriate:
“In general, hearings before the Fitness to Practise Committee (and interim order hearings before the Investigating Committee) are held in public. Panels have the discretion to go into private session for all or part of the hearing. This will be considered when dealing with matters relating to the nurse or midwife’s health, where issues are raised relating to the vulnerability of witnesses, the health of witnesses or other people who are identified but are not parties to the case, or to protect the anonymity of patients. The reasons published at the end of the case will mirror this approach.”
The NMC will take a proportionate approach to private session based in the individual circumstances of each case. For example, the fitness to practise committee has the flexibility to go into private session for only part of a hearing. It is therefore not necessary to have the entire hearing in private session where doing this is not necessary.
Whilst, in exceptional cases, a fitness to practise hearings are held in private session, the NMC will make public the outcome and any sanction at the conclusion of the hearing.
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