Language tests for nurses from abroad to be watered down

Laura Donnelly
Nursing shortages are increasingly common, as pressures mount  - PA

Language tests for overseas nurses are set to be overhauled, with “less academic” versions introduced, following complaints that current exams are too difficult. 

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) will announce that all nurses who come to Britain from countries where English is spoken, or who trained in such countries, will be able to skip tests.

And the remainder will be able to opt to take exams which are less “academic” after many nurses said they struggled with the current tests designed to show language competence.

Jackie Smith, chief executive of the NMC, said applicants had complained that the current tests were “a challenge” for many foreign nurses because they did not provide them with “occupational context”.

Under the new system, applicants who have spent at least a year working in a country where English is the native language, with language tests required for registration, will not have to undergo such exams. Those whose nursing training was taught in English will also be exempt.

And nurses from other countries will be given the option to take an “occupational English test” to demonstrate they can discuss clinical matters instead of the International English Language Test System.

Ms Smith said: “For some applicants the current tests appear to be a challenge in some ways - and the challenge is because it doesn’t provide the occupational context.”

“Some of the language used in some of the current tests is more academic, some people think,” she said, with nurses saying they had been asked to give a detailed explanation of how to make jam.

The international system of tests has been used for 11 years by countries outside the European Union, but was only introduced for EU nurses last year.

Since then the number of nurses registering to work in the UK has fallen dramatically, with the numbers registering to work in the UK falling from 1,300 to 46 in the nine months ending in April, with the tests, and Brexit, being blamed for the changes.

However, Ms Smith said: “We are not interested in lowering the standard to ease the workforce pressures.”

“Whether it means that hundreds of thousands of nurses will be able to come here more quickly only time will tell.”

Last week a report by the King’s Fund revealed “worrying” cuts in nurse numbers across the country - the first since the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal in 2013 called a halt to such policies.

Why is the NHS under so much pressure? |

The fall this April was the first year-on-year monthly fall since April 2013, and by June there were 1,071 fewer nurses than in June of last year, the report found.

A spokesman for the Royal College of Nursing said:  “The NHS is struggling to recruit overseas nurses but we would firmly oppose any change just to plug workforce gaps. It must be robust and command the confidence of the public.

“This move maintains high standards by using a comparable test but the NMC must review the decision every two years.”

Ms Smith said: “Nurses and midwives trained outside the UK make up around 15 percent of our register. They are vital to the delivery of health and care services across the UK.

“By accepting alternative forms of evidence we are increasing the options available for nurses and midwives to demonstrate they have the necessary command of English to practise safely and effectively, without compromising patient safety.”

She said the NMC would continue to review its English language requirements.

 

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