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Increase in overseas nurses applying to NMC following language test changes


A “significant number” of nurses from abroad have applied to work in the UK in the past two weeks, the nursing regulator has revealed, suggesting recent changes to language testing are improving overseas recruitment.

The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council told MPs this week that there were “early indications” the alternative English language test it had introduced, plus new rules that mean nurses who have studied or practised in English no longer need to take a test, were proving popular.

“Early indications are that a significant number have registered to take an alternative test or provide evidence of studying or practising in English”

Jackie Smith

“We wouldn’t have proposed these changes if we didn’t think it would make a difference,” NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told the Commons’ health select committee on Tuesday.

“Early indications are that a significant number have registered to take an alternative test or provide evidence of studying or practising in English,” said Ms Smith.

An NMC spokesman later confirmed to Nursing Times there had been a “spike” in the number of people from outside the UK applying to join the register since 1 November, when the rules changed.

However, he said it was unlikely applicants would have been required to provide evidence of their English language at such an early stage of their application and so it was unclear which of the rule changes was having the greatest effect.

The NMC brought in the changes after coming under pressure from chief nurses and recruitment agencies who claimed the existing International English Language Testing exam was causing recruitment difficulties because it was set at too high a level.

Following a review by the NMC, nurses from outside the UK can now take either the IELTS exam or the Occupational English Test, which is already in use in Australia and New Zealand.

In addition, if a nurse or midwife has practised for at least a year in a country where English is the first language, or studied in English, then they do not need to take a test.

Nt editorial jackie smith

Nt editorial jackie smith

Jackie Smith

The IELTS exam has been in place since 2007 for applicants from countries outside the EU and European Economic Area. Until 1 November nurses had to pass it, even if they come from countries such as Australia or New Zealand where English is the first language.

Meanwhile, since January 2016, nurses and midwives from Europe have also been required to demonstrate English language skills, either by passing the IELTS exam or having trained or previously practised in English.

Earlier this year, NMC figures showed a 96% drop in the number of EU nurses joining the register every month compared with the year before.

Some blamed English language testing requirements while others claimed Brexit was putting off nurses coming to work in the UK.

Last month the NMC agreed it would continuing to explore whether other tests, in addition to the IELTS and OET, could be used to assess English language in the future. It is also looking at whether to lower the pass score for just the writing element of the IELTS.

A wider review of all parts of the process for allowing overseas nurses into the register is also being carried out by the NMC, looking at language testing, competency checks, the cost and location of testing.


Readers' comments (2)

  • I think this is an excellent way to deal with the chronic nursing shortage. Only if the Trusts actively try to recruit staff.

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  • Thank you for taking the nurses shortage to review the registration requirements. Further work is still needed around processing application on time and making it more easier for people who obtain their training in English language. The NHS and other health providers need a good workforce to perform as expected.

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