Public safety endangered by ‘toxic’ nursing regulator as staff ‘gaslighted’ after raising alarm

A damning report into the UK’s nursing and midwifery regulator will find the body is endangering the public due to its toxic culture and failing to address widespread racism within its ranks, The Independent can reveal.

An explosive review into allegations that the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has a “deep-seated toxic culture” is set to be published next week and concerns over public safety will be one of many shocking revelations it will deliver, The Independent understands.

Staff who have given evidence to the report and also spoken to The Independent, have reported being “gaslighted” and intimidated or bullied when trying to report concerns about public safety to leaders.

The NMC regulates more than 800,000 nurses and midwives across the UK and is one of 10 official professional regulators of health and care workers.

The review, carried out by Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor, and Rise Associates, was commissioned following reports by The Independent revealing whistleblower allegations that racism and sexism within the NMC are leading to complaints against nurses going “unchecked”.

The review covers responses from around 1,000 staff and former staff, who were asked about the organisation’s culture in a survey, and hundreds of staff interviews.

The Independent understands the review has found evidence supporting the whistleblowers’ accusations.

Those allegations, reported in October, included that a “culture of fear” and “deep-seated toxic conduct” within the NMC was leading to failed investigations and preventing staff from speaking out. These included flawed investigations into nurses who’d had sexual assault allegations made against them, this newspaper found.

A whistleblower also revealed evidence the regulator’s culture was allowing racism complaints against nurses to go unchecked.

The report is understood to support whistleblower allegations that the NMC failed to tackle racism and discrimination.

A second review, by Ijeoma Omambala KC, directly into alleged botched investigations highlighted by the whistleblower, is due to be published later this summer.

Last year, this publication also revealed the NMC’s approach to regulation of nurses and midwives was leaving nurses accused of sexual assault and domestic violence free to work unchecked so long as the offences were committed outside of the workplace.

One whistleblower still working at the NMC said: “I and many others have raised concerns to NMC leadership that relates directly to public protection, safeguarding and severe harm to nurses and midwives.

“I have been ignored, gaslighted and intimidated by NMC staff... the NMC focuses on their reputation first and the public as a poor second and it disgusts me…”

Nurses accused of sexual assault outside the workplace have been allowed to continue in their roles (PA Wire)
Nurses accused of sexual assault outside the workplace have been allowed to continue in their roles (PA Wire)

Another senior official formerly at the NMC told The Independent when they raised concerns over a fitness-to-practice case involving a nurse alleged to have made racist comments, their concerns were “denied” and “ignored”.

They added: “Concerns were not followed up, I was subject to quite a lot of bullying and aggression, every time I raise an issue I would have a grievance taken out on me… This has also affected families – so many black staff have left with no jobs to go to.

“My experience was so horrible so bad throughout, I left without a job to go to.”

Multiple whistleblowers currently working with the NMC, and former staff have come forward to The Independent warning over the regulator’s culture.

One claimed: “The NMC only cares about public relations and its public image. Its stated values printed everywhere, of being Fair, Kind, Ambitious, Collaborative – it is none of these things and most especially not the first two.

“When challenged, its overriding priority is self-preservation instead of honest and effective regulation. It has lost sight of its real purpose. Fixing it needs replacement of at least some of its upper management and perhaps some middle management also.”

Another senior member of staff said: “Most staff don’t have any confidence in the leadership, their recent decisions have eroded any residues of trust... I have experienced a discriminatory recruitment process and complained but nothing was done about it.”

They added they do not have confidence the current leadership can address racism concerns: “They have shown that they don’t get it and when people point out their concerns, they gaslight.”

One worker told The Independent during their time at the NMC they were treated so badly and put under so much pressure this caused them to miss their daily medical appointments.

The worker, who has asked to remain anonymous, claims the treatment she received was linked to racist attitudes within the organisation.

At one point when raising concerns about the pressure and demands on her she was told she was “being difficult”.

A fifth worker said: “I came in bright-eyed and excited to do my best. Life was great. Then I made a grave mistake of telling the truth, concerns I had. Since then, my work life has been a living hell. I’m so broken, I don’t have the words to describe what is happening to me now.

“I’ve raised my concerns with the senior management team, but I suspect they will find a way to chuck me out while continuing to protect others.

“They gaslight you, they bully you if you don’t fall in line, then you’re a scapegoat.”

An NMC spokesperson said: “We’re extremely sorry to hear the concerns our colleagues have raised. We want to fix this for the future. That’s why we commissioned the independent review by Nazir Afzal and Rise Associates, which we’ll publish along with our response imminently.”