After months of pressure, it seems that the Nursing and Midwifery Council has listened to the feedback given in its consultation around the IELTS test for overseas nurses.
Now, international nurses wishing to practise in the UK look likely to have the option of taking an alternative test – the Occupational English Test. Many nursing professionals and employer organisations have said that this seems a more appropriate way to assess a nurse or midwife’s ability to communicate.
In addition, if the regulator decides to go ahead with the plans, nurses who have practised for two years in an English-speaking country won’t have to take an English language test at all.
On the face of it, these seem pretty sensible suggestions. One particular part of the test – the section that was a little like an English Language ‘O’ level comprehension test – caused the most problems, and the most controversy.
As for the relaxing of the rules over those applying to be on the register from English-speaking countries, again this seems prudent. After all, why should someone who has been working in Dublin suddenly have to pass the IELTS to work in Belfast or Bristol? And ditto nurses coming from Australia.
However, we must be careful this is not the start of the slippery slope. Overseas nurses may not be joining the register, and Brexit and our weak pound may be encouraging international nurses to leave the UK, but the answer is not to keep lowering the bar so anyone can practise.
I am sympathetic to employers struggling to get nurses they’ve recruited from other countries onto their register. I can understand their frustration at them being prevented from doing so because of their inability to understand a wholly unrelated topic such as jam-making, which is one of the topics pulled out in the IELTS.
But we must make the gates to enter the professional register suitably high to maintain the standard of communication, knowledge and skill – and therefore the standard of nursing. If this is the start of a slippery slope where we just make it easier to become a nurse, then we are all in very deep trouble.