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NMC commits to further work on language test amid ‘urgency’ concerns


The “huge sense of urgency” to look at whether the English language test used for foreign nurses should be changed in light of recruitment delays has been acknowledged by the Nursing and Midwifery Council as it pledged to explore the issue further.

However the regulator said it could not confirm when it would reach a final decision about whether the International English Language Testing System should be altered, and stressed it was “not here to solve workforce problems”.

As reported by Nursing Times last week, following its initial two-month “stocktake” of the IELTS the NMC found “no compelling evidence” so far that the test was set at too high a level overall.

But at an NMC council meeting this week the body committed to carrying out further work looking at the possibility of reducing the score for just the writing part of the IELTS, which is thought to be more difficult for candidates.

It will also investigate alternative assessments to the IELTS – such as the Occupational English Test (OET) used in countries including Australia and Singapore - which focus more on the clinical aspects of communication.

At the meeting this week, NMC council member Maura Devlin questioned whether the regulator had made it clear how urgent it was for employers that a decision was made soon.

“Certainly our stakeholders have a huge sense of urgency – and some of that relates to the workforce pressures at the moment”

Emma Broadbent

“Certainly our stakeholders have a huge sense of urgency – and some of that relates to the workforce pressures at the moment,” said NMC director of registration and revalidation Emma Broadbent.

However she noted that parts of the work would take different amounts of time.

“Some elements can be done quite quickly. Things like exploring the possibility of the OET is a much bigger piece of work that would require quite some time,” she told the meeting.

She told the council it would be provided with clear proposals and a timeframe in due course.

Nt editorial jackie smith

Nt editorial jackie smith

Jackie Smith

NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith later told Nursing Times that the regulator was “fully aware” of the urgency of the situation but noted the NMC was “not here to solve workforce problems”.

“So we need to understand what the workforce pressures are - but we don’t lower our standards to these workforce pressures,” she said.

“What we want to do first is make sure we are not compromising public protection. Thereafter we will look to what the solutions are,” she said.

Ms Smith said the NMC was committed to working with national bodies such as regulator NHS Improvement and NHS England on the issue to ensure there was a “strategic approach”.


Readers' comments (6)

  • peter rolland

    The NMC position to review the English language test is welcome, but only because regular review of any policy is valuable. There is no doubt, for the sake of patient safety, effective communication and care, and professional credibility, fluent English language is an essential competence.

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  • Good decision, because overall, band seven is achievable. If you cannot prepare yourself to pass the exam at that grade, you will not be a safe practitioner in the UK. What should be changed is the exam price: let's say, two attempts with the 50% rebate

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  • All nurses should have to take a maths test
    I believe the result would be scary
    I have known colleagues if they were giving me tablets and I was a patient I would take my own discharge

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  • While I appreciate the impact the test has on recruitment, the underlying concern here has to be patient safety. While the NHS may apply rules around testing in a more consistent way, there is a large private sector workforce which needs to apply language tests with the same rigor. If we apply a watered down test, will we all be sure the same standard is applied consistently and will patients be safe?

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  • There are already many nurses working in the UK who could not pass this test and who are only able to practice because they began their employment before the requirement to achieve IELTS level 7 was introduced.

    I'd be interested to know the NMC's stance on the competence of these nurses if a higher standard is now being applied.

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  • Totally agree with everything Peter said above.

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