The investigation, by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE), found that the NMC is carrying out its statutory functions, but not to the standard 'that the public has a right to expect'.
CHRE chief executive Harry Cayton said: 'We have serious concerns about the inadequate operation of the NMC's fitness to practise processes, governance framework and lack of strategic leadership, the inconsistent availability and provision of information to Council to ensure effective planning and decision making and its ability as an organisation to retain the confidence of key stakeholders.'
The CHRE report says it heard and saw no evidence of racism but added: 'We have seen and heard evidence of behaviour that is undoubtedly experienced as bullying by many people involved.'
An NMC spokesman said: 'The CHRE's report makes very tough reading for the NMC. The report identifies the NMC's strengths in the provision of standards and guidance for nurses and midwives. But we are acutely aware that there is still a big job to do at the NMC. We have already identified fitness to practise, better customer service and a modern IT infrastructure as areas for sustained attention and activity.'
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