Blog: Public or private

In her latest blog, our Chief Executive, Andrea Sutcliffe, talks about why some Fitness to practise hearings are held in private.

Human regulator

I am clear the Nursing and Midwifery Council must be a 'human regulator'. By that I mean we remember people are at the heart of all our work – as members of the public using health and care services; professionals on our register; and the partners we work with. We need to treat them all with dignity and respect.

Challenge

However, being human and being kind can sometimes come with a challenge and over the weekend we’ve seen concerns raised about a Fitness to Practise hearing we are currently holding in private. The contention being that the public interest would have been better served if the hearing had been held in public. 

Transparency

Being open and honest as a professional regulator is vital. Transparency is one of our core values. Fitness to Practise hearings are normally held in public unless there are very clear reasons why they should not and this is covered by our legislation and our guidance. We completely recognise that there is a public interest in holding hearings in public and that this helps to strengthen and sustain public confidence in professional regulation.

Remember the people

But let’s remember the people. The reasons why we sometimes hold hearings in private is to protect their interests – to keep information that is confidential to them just that, confidential. This is clearly set out in paragraph 57 of our guidance:

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.

That is the basis upon which this particular hearing was conducted in private and I stand by that decision. No public interest is served by exposing the details of the health or care of an individual whose anonymity may not be guaranteed in an open hearing. As we would do in any case where serious issues have been raised with us, we will of course review how we have handled it, what we could do better and how this may shape our future work. 

Public interest

I should point out that the nurse in this particular case is subject to an interim suspension order which is clearly visible on our website. When the case is concluded the outcome and any sanction will be made public. The public interest will have been served by us carrying out our work carefully and diligently and with due respect to all the individuals involved. That is what we should expect human regulation acting to protect the public to look like.


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