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Nursing regulator makes English test more ‘flexible’


The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to amend its English language test requirements for applicants to the register who trained outside the UK, in order to make it more “flexible”.

Yesterday the NMC announced it was changing its International English Language Testing System – known as IELTS – requirements for overseas nurses and midwives from both within the European economic area and beyond.

“After listening to feedback from stakeholders we have introduced changes to our process”

Jackie Smith

It will increase flexibility for applicants while ensuring that the appropriate standard of English language is still achieved, said the regulator.

The latest change shows the NMC has responded to concerns from nurses and employers that the difficulty of the test was proving a barrier to recruitment at a time of nurse staffing shortages.

Under the previous system, applicants were required to achieve the IELTS Academic Test at level 7 in reading, writing, speaking and listening in a single sitting.

Under the new protocols, the NMC still requires applicants to achieve level 7 in all areas, but this can now be achieved over two sittings of the tests.

Both tests must be within six months of each other and no single score must be below 6.5 in any of the areas across both tests, said the regulator.

The move follows concerns being raised in an NMC consultation last year that the test was too difficult at the level being proposed, and might deter some overseas nurses and midwives from working in the UK.

Passing the test was only introduced as a requirement by the NMC in January for European nurses that could not provide other evidence demonstrating their English language skills. Since then, such nurses have been required to pass the test at level 7.  

Nurses from outside the EU were already required to pass the IELTS test with a minimum score of 7.0.

Jackie Smith, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: “IELTS level 7 provides us and the public with assurance that nurses and midwives applying to join the register from outside the UK meet the appropriate standard of English language required to work in the UK.

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Jackie Smith

“We are mindful of the staffing pressures in the health service and after listening to feedback from stakeholders we have introduced changes to our process,” she said.

“We will continue to listen to feedback from nurses, midwives and their employers and assess any opportunities to introduce further flexibility,” she added.

The NMC noted that IELTS was well-established and internationally recognised method of testing English language ability.

It was also used by the Home Office and other healthcare regulators in English-speaking countries, where IELTs level 7 is a common requirement, said the regulator.

Responding to the announcement, Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said it was “essential” that the public had confidence that the nursing care they received was safe and effective. 

“We hear from patients on our helpline that there are real issues with nurses from other countries, including problems with communication and a lack of understanding of processes and procedures,” she said.

“If the NHS does employ nurses from other countries, it must ensure that they are fully qualified and competent to carry out their duties and that they are competent enough in English to effectively communicate with patients,” she added.


Readers' comments (4)

  • this is great news but I still feel the pass mark should come down like the Universities, also it will be advisable for them to resit the one that they fail

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  • Oh gosh.. It was not too difficult to obtain 8.0 on my second attempt. IMHO lowering the requirements will put the patients at risk.

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  • So is set up to make it easier then.

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  • It seems to me, there is enough issues with communication between healthcare staff and patients that to lower the bar on communication skills as a solution to increase rotas is a move in the wrong, risky and potentially costly direction!

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