The cost of the tests overseas nurses and midwives must take to work in the UK are being reduced by more than 20%, the professional regulator has revealed.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council is also proposing measures to make it easier for people to re-join the register after a career break.
From the start of next month, the cost of the computer-based test for international applicants will fall from £130 to £90; the charge for the practical examination will drop from £992 to £794 and to resit the practical examination will cost £397 instead of £496.
In addition, the NMC is considering a change that will allow former nurses and midwives to choose a test of competence to demonstrate that their skills and knowledge are up-to-date, rather than undertake a course, which can take between three and 12 months to complete.
Furthermore, where people do choose a return to practice course, the NMC will no longer state the minimum length of the course. Educators will now be able to consider the skills and experience of the applicants and design the courses accordingly.
Council members will explore the return to practice proposals at its meeting on 27 March.
The announcement comes on the same day that a new report by three think-tanks reveals that the English NHS could be short of up to 108,000 nurses in 10 years’ time without serious policy changes.
They said in order to plug gaps, an additional 5,000 nurses needed to be recruited from overseas each year until 2023/24.
Andrea Sutcliffe, chief executive and registrar at the NMC, said: “I hope both of these changes show that the NMC is playing its part in positively addressing the nursing and midwifery shortages that exist in health services, adult social care services and within local communities across the UK.”
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said welcomed the proposed changes.
“Including suitable nurses and midwives on the register as quickly as possible whilst upholding the necessary standards is critical in a competitive global market for nurses,” he added.
However, Dave Munday, a nurse and health visitor and also lead professional officer for mental health at the union Unite, has called for reassurance that the reduction in the cost of the overseas competence test would not result in a rise in fees for registrants.
“Organisations often want to say we are making something cheaper, and it’s that kind of bit about how does that impact the rest of us and for nurses and midwives that are absolutely struggling financially the constant fear is that the NMC will be coming out at some point to look at increasing fees,” he told Nursing Times.
“So, we don’t want that cost passing from one part of the system over to near 700,000 people that just can’t pay any more towards the NMC,” he added.
Meanwhile, the NMC has also revealed plans to introduce a new test of competence assurance panel.
A group of experienced nurses, midwives and other health and care professionals, will use their broad range of expertise to ensure consistency of tests across different test centres.