More stringent language and competency tests for European nurses are needed to protect patients and avoid more failures in basic care, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has told MPs.
Speaking at a House of Commons health committee hearing last week, NMC assistant director for nursing and midwifery policy Katerina Kolyva said the regulator was unable to test European nurses’ language skills or practice fully.
Under European law, the NMC is not allowed to test nurses from within the European Economic Area on their grasp of the English language.
Conservative MP David Tredinnick asked Ms Kolyva if she considered this “an alarming situation”. She replied: “It is indeed.”
Mr Tredinnick suggested language issues were “why we have had highly publicised cases in recent years of nurses who have apparently not met the standards through confusion over language and different standards”.
NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes confirmed to MPs he thought that was the case.
Ms Kolyva also suggested training standards in Europe were outdated compared with those of the UK, when asked by the committee whether nurses from the EU were trained to UK levels.
“They’re trained to EU standards, which were set many years ago; they date back to the 1970s,” she said.
Most nurses who have trained in the EU can automatically work in the UK. For nurses with shortfalls in training or qualifications, multiple choice “aptitude” tests were introduced in April.
Ms Kolyva said some language competency was picked up through these written tests.
She also pointed out that definitions of nurses and midwives “vary considerably” across EU member states.
For example, she said, in some European countries midwives merely supported women for a few days before birth and a “few hours” afterwards, while those in the UK looked after them throughout labour and for at least 10 days after birth.
The NMC is working with the Department of Health on finding a way to resolve the language issue.