Freedom to speak up crucial however difficult to hear

Published on 12 October 2023

Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, on the appointment of Ijeoma Omambala KC to lead independent investigations following concerns raised in The Independent

Together with my executive colleagues and our Council, I’ve reflected deeply on the recent articles in The Independent about the way we’ve handled some of our Fitness to Practise (FtP) cases, especially those involving discrimination, racism, sexual misconduct, child protection and safeguarding. I’m more determined than ever for the NMC to fully embed a safe and inclusive working environment that supports all our colleagues to thrive, and delivers effectively on our primary purpose of protecting the public. 

I’m sorry anyone has concerns about our culture, and the regulatory decisions we take. We’re committed to a rigorous, transparent and independent response to the concerns.  That’s why we’ve appointed Ijeoma Omambala KC to lead two investigations over the next few months – one into the way we’ve responded to the concerns raised, and another into the fitness to practise cases highlighted in those concerns. 

Ijeoma’s appointment follows a rigorous process in which we had discussions with a range of individuals with extensive regulatory experience. Ijeoma has experience in breadth and depth: in a legal career spanning more than 30 years, she has investigated high-profile discrimination, sexual orientation and belief claims, whistleblowing cases, and disability, age and maternity discrimination complaints. I’m absolutely confident she’s the right person to provide the independent scrutiny we need.  We’ll make sure she has access to external clinical professional expertise to support her work. 

Alongside Ijeoma’s two investigations, a third external investigation over the coming months will focus on the concerns raised about our culture. To start with, we’re forming an internal advisory group of diverse colleagues to share experiences and suggestions with our Council. This will help us proceed in the best way possible, including appointing the right independent expert to lead us forward in this area. 

I’m so grateful that lots of people want to help us improve – we just need to make sure we do this in a way that leads to enduring, positive change. 

Making safe and fair decisions 

As a regulator, it’s our responsibility to make decisions that keep people safe, making clear there is no place for discrimination in health and care. We’re constantly working to improve. For example, we’re currently reviewing our guidance for decision makers in cases involving sexual misconduct, domestic abuse and safeguarding issues. We’ve already discussed the developing approach with some of our key stakeholders and we’ll be meeting with others in the coming weeks. 

The updated guidance will be ready in February, supported by training for our FtP colleagues and independent panel members. In the meantime, we’re already clear that this kind of conduct is unacceptable, and our hearings outcomes show any proven allegations of this nature will be treated extremely seriously. 

Building an inclusive culture 

As an employer, we’re responsible for a brilliant and diverse workforce who are motivated by our purpose. I’m so sorry to anyone who has personally suffered or observed racism or sexism, bullying or harassment at the NMC.  That’s not everyone’s experience as many colleagues have told me, but we must have a zero-tolerance approach for everyone’s benefit. 

I’m proud to be part of such a diverse organisation – two in five of our colleagues are from a Black and Minority Ethnic background, and seven in 10 are women. We must continue working to create the right environment for each colleague to progress in their career. That means being a transparent and learning organisation, where colleagues can confidently raise issues, knowing we’ll act to improve.  

To that end, we have a range of ways for colleagues to speak up and seek support, including our annual staff survey. Where helpful, we also carry out reviews such as the internal ‘neutral assessment’ report we commissioned in April 2022 to better understand concerns raised within one of our FtP teams.  

However, I know some colleagues still do not feel safe to speak up about their concerns. The experiences of some of my colleagues from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds have not been good enough, and I know people feel let down by slow progress. Supported by our internal advisory group, we must do more to make our working environment and experiences for colleagues the best they can be. 

My personal commitment 

As Chief Executive and Registrar, I’m here to make a difference for people whose health and wellbeing rely on safe, kind and effective nursing and midwifery care. I want to support our professionals to provide that care, and to lead an inclusive, fair and values-driven employer.  

There’s much more to do to instil full trust and confidence in us as we work toward this aim. We need to ask ourselves the hard questions, acting quickly and transparently where we need to improve. We’re in contact with the Charity Commission which has opened a regulatory compliance case into these concerns, and we’ll fully engage with them on this.  

I promise we’ll listen, learn and most importantly act, responding to the concerns with care, rigour and a commitment to keeping people safe.    

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