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English language testing petition surges in popularity


A petition calling for the English language test used for nurses coming to work in the UK to be altered has surged in popularity in the past few weeks, and now has more than 8,800 signatures.

Set up by a nurse based in Aberdeen, who is from India and trained in London, the petition claims the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a “significant barrier” for overseas nurses who want to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

“The IELTS was the only barrier for them to get their registration in the country as a nurse”

Febin Cyriac

The petition calls on the NMC to consider a number of actions, including lowering the score needed to pass the IELTS and excluding those nurses who have completed a degree at a UK university. It also suggests reducing the test requirements for foreign nurses who have worked in a healthcare setting in the UK for at least three years, and changing the type of IELTS test used.

As reported by Nursing Times, there have been growing concerns in recent months that the difficulty of the IELTS test is causing delays to nurse recruitment.

NHS trusts told Nursing Times that staff were taking between eight months and a year on average to pass the IELTS following several attempts and only around 50% of potential candidates are ultimately successful.

The NMC brought in the IELTS test for European nurses at the start of 2016. Since last summer there has been a 96% drop in the number of European Union nurses joining the NMC’s register every month.

Nurses from the rest of the world have been required to pass the IELTS since 2005. The score required to pass was raised to a higher level in 2007 and has remained the same since.

All candidates from outside the UK must score a minimum of 7.0 out of 9.0 across all four elements of reading, writing, listening and speaking – though a change brought in by the NMC last year now allows nurses to combine results from two sittings, as long as they do not fall below 6.5.

Following discussions with the government, the NMC revealed last month it would be carrying out a “stocktake” of the test, to see whether it should be changed.

The petition was set up in 2014 and by last month it had gained the support of 4,000 people.

However, in the past few weeks it has attracted thousands more, with 8,879 people now having added their signature.

Nurse Febin Cyriac, who is behind the petition, said the IELTS score was “considered really difficult to achieve and unnecessary for the needs of the profession”.

He told Nursing Times he started the petition because he knew many nurses from abroad who were working in care worker roles in the UK due to being unable to pass the test.

“A lot of students, including my friends, studied master’s degrees in nursing in the UK but were having to work as care workers in care homes.

“The IELTS was the only barrier for them to get their registration in the country as a nurse,” he said.

Many of the nurse vacancies across the country could be filled if the IELTS were altered, he claimed.

An update from the NMC on its stocktake of the test is expected at its council meeting next week on 5 July.


Readers' comments (3)

  • 7 is achievable (especially if spread over the two tests) and this requirement should not be lowered. It is not easy, but if you put a little bit of an effort, you will score even more than that.
    The test should be cheaper, for sure.

    IMHO, patient safety is at risk if you go lower than 7. The IELTS grading is exponential and in order to get 5 or 6, it will suffice if you know just basics of the basics.

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  • I agree. This is a knee jerk reaction to the impending staffing crisis as a result of 1 in 5 nurses retiring in the next five years. Which of course the government has known about for some time. Their answer? Scrap the bursary and while we are at it, lets give a billion pounds to Northern Ireland so they can get us out of the shambolic position we are in.

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  • yes, but for some reason the exam has been a ground for business making scheme in other countries. with the decline of student nurses, retirement of experienced nurses, decline in EU nurses, this exam is the onky thing getting our way to have more nurses in different trusts. it is a matter of weighing which is unsafe: having an experienced nurse from other countries who can speak English fluently but could not get a 7 in academic writing which is way more different than what is required in the trusts or have understaffed hospital with nurses who are exhausted due to staffing issues. I guess the latter is more scary. You haven't witnessed medication errors because of nurses who couldn't cope with the pressure from having a set of patients who are meant to be handled by 2 or 3 patients.

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