Fitness to practise defence barristers, Kings View Chambers, looks at the differences between NMC meetings and panels.
Conclusion of NMC Investigations – A brief overview
At the conclusion of a Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) investigation, case examiners might make the decision to refer the case to a NMC’s Fitness to Practise Committee.
The decision by case examiners are reviewed by the NMC’s legal team. If they agree with the referral, the legal officers will draft a ‘charge’, which sets out the particular facts in the case. This will include documents that have been gathered during the investigation to be used as evidence in the hearing bundle. The bundle should set out the reasons why the NMC alleges a nurse or midwife is not fit to practise and, if the facts were to be found proven, what sanction it suggests would be appropriate.
The NMC will send the nurse or midwife what is referred to as a “statement of case” that will outline, the draft charge(s), the NMC’s opinion on impairment and sanction. The information included in the “statement of case” can include, amongst other things, information about:
- which documents it gathered through the investigation that will be used as evidence (called the ‘hearing bundle’)
- the number of days it expects a hearing to last
- which witnesses it plans to rely on
- whether it thinks the case should be considered virtually or at a physical hearing
- how the witnesses’ evidence will be given to the panel
- whether we think the case needs to be joined together with another case.
- the evidence matrix, if one has been created.
Opportunities to respond
The NMC states that the purpose of this information is so the nurse or midwife has “the opportunity to respond and tell us if they disagree with any of our decisions.”
This therefore gives the nurse or midwife an opportunity to respond to the NMC and the charge(s) they face, including whether they admit or deny any of the allegations.
Nurses and midwives must carefully consider their position and response at this stage. There are a lot of factors for nurses and midwives to consider, particularly in complex cases or where the facts are in dispute.
Nurses or midwives are strongly advised to seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity. It is very important that responses are thoroughly considered, comprehensive, relevant, timely and accurate.
An Overview of Meetings and Hearings
Both the NMC’s Investigating Committee and Fitness to Practise Committee panels can reach decisions on cases at a meeting or a hearing.
Meetings are, generally, held in cases where a nurse (or midwife) has either:
1. not requested a hearing;
*See “Opportunities to respond”
In cases where the nurse (or midwife) “materially disputes the allegations, or the facts relating to the allegations”, a hearing will be necessary to resolve this.
This is because, at a hearing, anyone who gives evidence can be asked questions about their evidence by the other party and by the panel.
In certain circumstances, a meeting panel can decide a hearing is necessary and refer the case to a full fitness to practise hearing.
Before looking at the differences, it is worth pointing out that both NMC meetings and hearings:
- are ‘independent’ and have to make their own decision about a nurse or midwife’s fitness to practise; and
- have the same range of sanctions available; and
- have an independent legal assessor present; and
- will produce a written determination.
There are however important differences:
|The panel makes its decision based only on the documents (or “statement of case*”) that have been submitted.
|Lice evidence can be given by the nurse (or midwife) and they can be represented.
|The meeting is held in private with neither the nurse (or midwife), public nor the NMC case presenter can attend the hearing.
|Hearings are generally held in public, whether they are being held virtually via video-conferencing or take place physically at a hearings centre. (However, any hearing may have some parts of its proceedings held in private, if necessary to protect the privacy of any party involved.)
|Meetings can take place either virtually or physically, with the panel meeting in person at a hearings centre.
|Meetings can take place either virtually or physically, with the panel meeting in person at a hearings centre. However, unlike meetings, whether physical or virtual, all are invited to attend.
Which one is right for you?
NMC investigations are often complex and very legalistic. Nurses or midwives are strongly advised to seek legal advice at the earliest possible opportunity.
Whilst there are several opportunities for a nurse or midwife to respond to charges and allegations, it is very important that their responses are thoroughly considered, timely and accurate. This is particularly the case where NMC charges and/or facts are in dispute or where there is mitigation such as contextual factors and/or remediation.
With over 30 years combined experience, Kings View Chambers have established itself as one of the best when it comes to fitness to practise defence. We fully understand that fitness to practise defence is not merely about processes and procedures. We also understand that we are working with people who are anxious and worried about what investigations might mean for them, their professions and the reputations.
We are proud to be rated ‘excellent’ by our clients. Our commitment to client care is genuine in both seeking the very best outcomes for our clients, but also ensuring we do what we can to support them through the process.
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