The Nursing and Midwifery Council has defended a new system for the registration of overseas nurses, following claims it could put patients at risk.
Previously nurses from outside the EU who wished to work in the UK had to do at least three months’ supervised practise.
But from autumn this year – as reported previously in Nursing Times – they will simply be required to pass a multiple choice online exam before doing a day-long practical competence test in the UK.
The move, unveiled in detail by the regulator last week, looks set to make it quicker and easier for trusts struggling with nursing staff shortages to recruit abroad.
“I think we’re proposing a system the public can have confidence in and the professions can have confidence in”
However, there is concern the shorter tests will not be sufficient to assess whether someone is good enough to work in UK healthcare settings.
This week the Royal College of Nursing said it needed to know more about how nurses would be evaluated before it could judge “whether or not the system is adequate”.
But NMC chief executive Jackie Smith denied the new system was “less robust”, and said the regulator had set out to find “the best method of assessing someone’s application”.
“I think we’re proposing a system the public can have confidence in and the professions can have confidence in,” she told Nursing Times.
“What we’re doing at the moment is looking at hours, but what we’re suggesting here is better,” she said. “We’re saying ‘let’s see you in a situation and see how you translate the learning and training you have acquired in your home country to UK standards’.”
The changes follow a three-month public consultation and will bring the process in line with systems for overseas registration used by other professional regulators, such as the General Medical Council.
Ms Smith denied one of the main drivers for the change was to make it easier for trusts to recruit from overseas, though the NMC has admitted this was a benefit. “It’s not about making things easier or harder, shorter or longer, it’s about public protection and using the best approach,” she said.
“If a by-product of what we’re proposing is that the system is quicker, then that’s absolutely fantastic for employers, because we recognise they are recruiting from non-EU – as well as EU - countries at the moment,” she told Nursing Times.
NMC figures show that, as of March this year, there were just over 67,000 overseas-trained nurses on its register. The body said it had registered more than 5,000 in the past five years, with 840 joining the register in the 12 months up to March 2014.
Ms Smith said it was important to remember the key role played by employers in selecting the right staff for their organisations.
“If we decide someone is competent to be on our register, then employers must make sure they’ve got the right values and the right support and training in place to be able to deliver care to the standard required,” she said.
“We will be observing very closely how it works in practise because it is new and different”
The RCN said improving registration was only a part of the changes needed, and it was vital overseas nurses were supported and monitored.
“Whether nurses come from the EU or the rest of the world, it is vital that employers are recruiting them for the right reasons,” said RCN executive director of nursing Janet Davies.
“Too often nurses are recruited from overseas to fill short term gaps and given inadequate support to care for patients as well,” she added.
The new system is due to be introduced in October this year.
“We will be observing very closely how it works in practise because it is new and different and therefore we need to make sure it is delivering,” said Ms Smith.
Meanwhile, she said the NMC was “still working out the finer detail of the “practical test, which will take the form of an objective structured clinical examination (OSCE) in a simulated healthcare environment.
She confirmed it would be a day-long exercise that would test skills such as communication and patient engagement. “It’s the sort of thing that should not take individuals by surprise,” she said.
As well as passing the new tests, nurses must provide relevant documentation – such as identification, university transcripts and language certificates – to show they have a good command of English.
The changes to overseas registration in the UK contrast with the new system for registering overseas nurses recently introduced in Australia. New rules have made it harder for NHS-trained nurses with diploma-level qualifications to work there, as recently reported by Nursing Times.
UK nurses struggling to get registered in Australia said they would prefer some kind of competence test, like that proposed by the NMC, as opposed to being judged on the type of qualification they held.
“Something like this would make much more sense,” one posted on Facebook.