Health select committee backs MP’s calls for right to NHS appeal

AN influential Commons committee has backed John Healey’s calls for immediate changes to the NHS complaints process.

The Wentworth & Dearne MP took up the case of Goldthorpe toddler Vinny Duggan a year ago and urged reform of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) at a debate he secured in Parliament in December.

Appeals against the NMC’s initial findings are not allowed because of a high court ruling.

Now the Health Select Committee have agreed with Mr Healey that the Government should amend the rules “as soon as possible.”

The recommendations came in the committee’s report of the annual accountability hearing held with NMC representatives, published today.

It said Mr Healey had drawn their attention to the Duggan case which raised further issues with the Nursing and Midwifery Order, which governs the NMC’s work in relation to fitness to practise cases.

The report says: “In cases where the NMC has made an initial judgement that there is no case to answer on a complaint raised against a registrant, it does not have the power to re-examine that case and apply a sanction unless a further complaint has been made within three years of the first.

“Other regulators are able to re-examine cases; the GMC, for example was granted this power in 2004.

“We consider that the inability of the NMC to review its own initial decisions is a significant gap in its powers.

“We note the forthcoming general review of regulatory powers by the Law Commission, but we recommend that the Department of Health takes action now to seek to amend the Nursing and Midwifery Order to put the NMC on a par with the GMC on these matters as soon as possible.”

The Law Commission is currently reviewing the regulation of healthcare professionals and the Government have previously said they would wait for their proposals, which could take several years.

Mr Healey maintains the change could be done without delay by secondary Regulations or a new clause in the forthcoming Care and Support Bill.

He said today: “Staff and patients will not understand why, and find it hard to forgive, if the Government appears to be dragging its feet over this.

“We need a fair and level playing field in how we regulate professionals, investigate complaints and provide protection and reassurance for everyone involved in the NHS, from senior consultant to junior nurse, and of course for patients and their families themselves.”

He has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt challenging him to release, under the Freedom of Information Act, full details and copies of any correspondence over the past 12 months on this issue between his Department and either the Law Commission or the NMC.

Vinny’s mum Andrea Duggan said she was delighted with the health select committee’s recommendations.

She said: “It’s ludicrous that there isn’t already an appeals process. This recommendation would only bring it in line with current times and all the other regulators.

“It is a fundamental right to appeal with anything, why should the NMC be exempt?”

Andrea and her husband Andy are fighting for answers and justice over the way their son was treated in the few days after his birth at Doncaster hospital in August 2010.

Vinny, now two, has a rare combination of heart and lung problems, brain damage thought to be from lack of oxygen and is unlikely ever to speak.

Mr and Mrs Duggan complained to the NMC but their fitness to practise investigating committee found there was no case to answer.

Mrs Duggan said important evidence was overlooked or not accounted for and in April 2012 the NMC indicated the Investigating Committee intended to look at the case again.

However it is restricted by a high court judgement in May which means it does not have the legal powers to review its own decisions.