Patient safety could improve following Brexit, because European nurses coming to work in the UK may be required to take more skills tests in the same way applicants from the rest of the world do, the head of the nursing regulator has said.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council’s chief executive told MPs that leaving the European Union provided the opportunity to consider having a “consistent approach” for all applicants from outside the UK that “enables us to put people on the register to deliver care to UK standards”.
“One issue that we have as a professional regulator is our ability to be able to test the skills and competence of applicants wherever they come from”
Currently, under EU legislation, the NMC is unable to test European nurses on their nursing skills and competencies.
Instead, the law – required by the EU’s Mutual Recognition of Professional Qualifications Directive – allows European nurses to work in the UK if they have gained a qualification in nursing that meets minimum standards agreed by EU countries.
Meanwhile, recent changes to this legislation have meant the NMC can check for communication skills – by requiring evidence of the International English Language Test (IELTS) if applicants are unable to assure them they have this ability.
In contrast, nurses from the rest of the world are required to take both a computer-based test of their nursing knowledge, followed by an “objective structured clinical examination” in the UK, which involves them acting out scenarios of assessing, planning, carry out and evaluating care.
They must also have passed the IELTS with a minimum score of 7.0
“What… Brexit gives us is the opportunity to think about having a consistent approach that enables us to put people on a register to deliver care to UK standards”
During a Commons’ health select committee session last week on the priorities for the health and care sector during Brexit negotiations, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith was asked how patient safety could be improved if the EU legislation no longer applied.
“One issue that we have as a professional regulator is our ability to be able to test the skills and competence of applicants wherever they come from,” said Ms Smith.
“With the current directive, we can test English language, which we do for applicants coming from Europe, but we have a system in place whereby we recognise their education and training,” she told the MPs on the cross-bench committee.
“I suppose what Europe and Brexit give us is the opportunity to think about having a consistent approach that enables us to put people on a register to deliver care to UK standards,” she said.
“That is not to say that is not what is happening now, but we have a different system in place for nurses and midwives who come from the Philippines, India and the States, as opposed to from within Europe,” she added.
Ms Smith later suggested the current scenario was a problem if a European nurse had been out of practice for several years, because the NMC had no way to test if their skills were up-to-date.
When asked whether the NMC would like to see in the future all nurses applying from outside of the UK being subjected to the same tests currently used for non-European nurses, Ms Smith confirmed this was the case.
The NMC currently has around 38,000 European nurses and midwives on its register.
In January, the NMC released figures showing the number of EU nurses being admitted onto the register had dropped significantly since the summer – from 1,304 in July, to only 101 joining in December.
It said it was too early to say whether the reduction was due to the Brexit vote in June, the introduction of English language testing which came fully into effect by July, or a combination of both.