Misconduct hearings into nurses and midwives could soon be held in private

Nurses and midwives could avoid public hearings into misconduct and escape sanction if they admit errors under controversial new plans by the industry watchdog.

The proposals by the Nursing and Midwifery (NMC) council would see the vast majority of fitness to practice hearings being held behind closed doors.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said she wanted to replace the "cumbersome and adversarial" conduct and competence procedures.

Under the draft strategy, nurses and midwives who could otherwise expect to be struck off could continue working if they convince the NMC they have learnt their lesson.

Currently, nurses or midwives must face a three-strong independent panel aided by a legal assessor, with the case put by a barrister or solicitor acting as a case presenter for the NMC.

The new approach could be applied even in the most serious of cases, even those resulting in patient deaths, the Telegraph reported.

Ms Smith said the plans were an attempt to protect patient safety without "punishing" midwives for mistakes.

There would be full hearings only in the most exceptional of circumstances.

"This is not about doing deals behind closed doors," she said.

The proposals are due to go to a public consultation.

In its mission statement, the NMC says "We believe in people, we believe they matter; We value fairness, we are consistent and act with integrity; We Value transparency, we are open and honest."

The NMC deal with around 5,000 cases of misconduct each year - or about 0.7% of all nurses and midwives on the register.

About 23% of misconduct hearings result in the registrant being struck off.