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”
“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.
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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”.