Former chief prosecutor to probe nursing regulator over ‘culture of fear’

Nazir Afzal (Press Association)
Nazir Afzal (Press Association)

A former chief prosecutor has been hired to investigate allegations of “poor culture” within the UK’s nursing regulator following a major investigation by The Independent.

Nazir Afzal will head up a third independent probe into the Nursing and Midwifery Council, which is accused of ignoring whistleblowers’ concerns due to “deep-seated toxic conduct”.

In a series of stories last year, The Independent uncovered serious allegations, including that the regulator was allowing midwives and nurses accused of serious sexual, physical and racial abuse to go on working due to a “culture of fear” within its organisation.

Documents seen by The Independent revealed NMC staff had reported being too scared to flag their concerns over poor processes, amid pressure to get through huge backlogs in cases.

In response to the investigation, the NMC launched three independent probes. The first two into the initial whistleblower accusations are being led by top KC Ijeoma Omambala, while Mr Afzal will lead the third.

Mr Afzal recently led a review of the London Fire Brigade which found the services “‘institutionally misogynist and racist”.

During his career as the chief crown prosecutor for the North West, he led prosecutions in high-profile cases such as those against the Rochdale grooming gang and ex-BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall.

The appointment comes as The Independent revealed the story of nurse Michelle Russell who has been battling with the regulator for seven years after making allegations of sexual harassment against another nurse.

In a message sent to staff on Tuesday, NMC chief executive Andrea Sutcliffe wrote: “As I have reflected in previous emails, I’m disappointed there’s concern from anyone about our culture at the NMC and I’m sorry to everyone who feels let down.

“I recognise that we’ve got a long way to go in building people’s full trust and confidence. I hope the culture review and investigations will help us to learn and improve so we can ensure every colleague at the NMC feels valued and supported to deliver our purpose effectively, making fair decisions that keep the public safe.”

The whistleblower whose evidence prompted the NMC’s probes said: “The NMC is spending £0.3 million on these investigations yet none of them cover my concerns that senior leaders direct the systematic harassment of staff who raise concerns and then cover this up.

“This is how I have been treated since whistleblowing, despite the claims the NMC has made publicly and the scrutiny it’s currently under. The NMC is not giving Mr Azhar access to complaints raised by colleagues and how this has been addressed by our HR department, including use of non-disclosure agreements.

“I believe any investigation based on such limited information will be unable to draw meaningful conclusions and is a misuse of registration fees at a time when the NMC could be directing this money to address its significant caseload backlog.”