A ban on language testing for nurses is to remain in force, even though the government is overturning that on doctors on the grounds that they pose more of a risk to patients.
The Department of Health last week announced it would allow the General Medical Council to test the language skills of doctors from within the European Economic Area (EEA) who want to work in the UK.
Legally, regulators are prevented from checking whether EEA healthcare workers have a good enough grasp of English to work with patients.
However, workers from outside EEA, for example Canada and Australia, routinely have their language skills scrutinised.
The Department of Health confirmed to Nursing Times that the ban on testing EEA nurses’ language abilities would not be overturned, as it has been for doctors.
A spokesman said the DH was focusing on areas where the risk to patients was most “acute” and that doctors often worked as locums or were self employed.
Nurses generally worked in an “employed environment”, he said, meaning concerns about a nurse’s knowledge of English could be reported to managers.
Royal College of Nursing head of policy Howard Catton responded: “A lot of nurses do work within trusts but a lot work on their own and routinely one to one with patients. Because of the extension of nurses’ roles, they’re dealing with people who are vulnerable, who have complex needs.
“If patient safety is to be the pre-eminent principle of the NHS…it’s impossible to draw a line between the medical workforce and other healthcare professionals.”
The DH’s decision followed the furore over Nigerian-German locum GP Daniel Ubani, who was convicted last year of unlawfully killing a patient.
Mr Catton said the latest decision on language testing was “political” and that the government appeared to have a “blind spot” regarding the role of the multidisciplinary workforce.
The NMC said it would continue to lobby the government to allow it to impose language tests for European nurses. At a health select committee hearing in June, the regulator’s assistant director for nursing and midwifery policy Katerina Kolyva agreed with an MP who said the current ban was “alarming”.