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Changes to NMC language test requirements ‘come in force’

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Changes to the Nursing and Midwifery Council’s language testing requirements for nurses and midwives trained outside the UK have come into force today.

As revealed by the regulator earlier this month, the changes make alternative options available for overseas nurses and midwives to demonstrate their English language capability.

The NMC will now accept the Occupational English Test (OET) in addition to the International English Language Test System (IELTS), as proof of a nurse or midwife’s English language competence.

OET is run jointly by Cambridge Assessment English, part of Cambridge University, and Australia’s Box Hill Institute.

It is already used in Australia and assesses English language in a nursing and healthcare context – as opposed to the IELTS which has been criticised for being too academic. It is, however, more expensive to take than IELTS and is available in fewer testing centres around the world.

The NMC added: “While this provides an alternative way for nurses and midwives to demonstrate their English language capability, applicants will still need to meet our existing English language standards.”

“Applicants will still need to meet our existing English language standards”

NMC statement

In addition, under the changes, overseas nurses and midwives who qualified outside the European Union or European Economic Area will also be able to demonstrate their English language capability in two other ways.

For example, they can now meet the NMC’s requirements by providing evidence that they have undertaken a pre-registration nursing or midwifery qualification taught and examined in English.

The NMC will also now accept evidence that a nurse registered and practised for a minimum of one year in a country where English is the “first and native language”, and a successful pass in an English language test was required for registration.

“These changes will bring the options available for those trained outside the EU/EEA more closely in line with those from the EU/EEA,” added the NMC in a statement today.

The move represents the first stage of the NMC’s review of its English language requirements.

The IELTS exam has been in place since 2007 for applicants from countries outside the EU and European Economic Area, even if they come from countries such as Australia or New Zealand where English is the first language.

In addition, since January 2016, overseas nurses and midwives from Europe have also had to be able to demonstrate the necessary command of English to practise safely and effectively in the UK, either by passing IELTS or having trained or previously practised in English.

However, the requirements, especially the controversial IELTS test have been blamed by some for holding up trust’s ability to get overseas recruits onto wards and even for deterring applicants.

Trust chief nurses and recruitment agencies have previously warned that the test was set at too high a level and was delaying vital overseas recruitment needed to help fill staffing gaps in the UK.

Staff from abroad were said to be taking between eight months and a year on average to pass IELTS following several attempts, and only around 50% of potential candidates were ultimately successful.

As a result, in May, the NMC agreed to hold a “stocktake” of the IELTS test to decide whether any changes were necessary. Employers, agencies, unions and senior nurses among others were then consulted about a number of proposals – the results of which have just been published in a report.

Announcing the resulting changes on 18 October, the regulator said it would continue to evaluate other potential types of evidence, develop additional support for applicants and explore the evidence base for the IELTS test.

For example, it has previously said it is looking at whether to lower the pass score for just the writing element of the IELTS, but has largely rejected suggestions that the exam overall is too hard.

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