The recruitment of European Union nurses is expected to become increasingly difficult following the introduction of new language testing rules, a government advisory body has been warned.
The Migration Advisory Committee was asked by the government to review whether nurses should remain on the shortage occupation list, after they were temporarily placed on it last year following national recruitment problems.
In its report, the committee recommended “reluctantly” that the profession be retained on the list, a move that will make it easier for trusts to employ nurses from outside of Europe.
As part of its investigation into the workforce, the committee was told the supply of nurses from within the European Economic Area – comprising the EU and other countries including Norway and Iceland – was “drying up”.
It was told the standard of recruits from these countries was declining and that there were concerns nurses would not be able to pass the new language tests being brought in by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
“New language training requirements for registrants from the EU will further reduce the numbers of nurses wishing to come to the UK”
The new rules, introduced on 18 January, require EU nurses to pass a test showing they are proficient in English if they cannot provide other evidence demonstrating their language skills.
Nurses must pass the test – the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam – with a minimum score of 7.0, which has been previously suggested to be at too high a level.
Comments made to the advisory committee by recruitment agencies, the Department of Health and “many other partners” echoed these concerns.
They said the ability of employers to recruit nurses within the EU was set to “further decline with the introduction to the nursing registration requirements of an increased standard of English language ability”.
In its evidence to the committee, the recruitment agency TTM Healthcare said: “The introduction of the new language training requirements for registrants from within the EU will further reduce the numbers of EU nurses wishing to come to the UK, which will put even greater pressure on the need to recruit overseas nurses.”
Nurses from outside the EU are already required to pass the IELTS test with a minimum score of 7.0.
But the report noted these nurses, from countries such as India and the Philippines, tended to have better English language skills than applicants from the EU due to the language being commonly spoken in these places.
The concerns over the impact of the new rules come at the same time the NMC has seen a surge in EU applications ahead of the change.
Recent NMC council papers revealed that in just one month the number of applications to work in the UK from EU nurses almost tripled, rising from an average of 700 a month in 2015, to 1,977 in January.
NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said it was “human nature” for people to apply before a change in rules, and that the regulator “couldn’t reach any conclusions to imply those are people who potentially don’t have the communication skills required”.