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English language checks 'may harm' overseas recruitment


Concerns have been raised that new English language controls for European Union nurses and midwives seeking to join the UK register could hamper overseas recruitment efforts by the NHS.

From January 2016, the Nursing and Midwifery Council will be able to test EU applicants if they are unable to produce evidence showing they are competent in understanding and using English.

Currently, nurses from outside the EU are asked for evidence that they have passed the International English Language Testing System, but a legal loophole has prevented this being applied to nurses who trained within the union.

At an NMC council meeting last week council members discussed the draft policy for introducing the language controls. It was suggested the change could have a “significant negative effect” on the number of EU trained nurses and midwives who are able to register with the NMC.

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Speaking to Nursing Times, NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said: “I’ve no doubt it will be frustrating for individual and for employers but this is about public protection which will not be compromised.

“I’m sure people will find it off-putting but I don’t know whether it will or won’t stop people from coming over here,” said Ms Smith.

She said that the high level of demand for nurses in the UK at the moment meant she “can’t see the appetite to join our register diminishing”.

On Friday, the NMC announced that a 12-week public consultation on the policy for introducing English language checks would begin in early June 2015.


Readers' comments (19)

  • If I went to work in Greece or France or any other nation I would expect to have to speak the local language and would also expect this to be tested. If they can't speak English it will be good to keep them at bay!

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  • I feel healthcare workers are recruited from less wealthy/poorer countries for whom English is not their first language. These factors alone should raise the alarm bell regarding ethics. Try recruiting from wealthier western countries and see if how their leaders react. A vital resource - people, their strength, youth, education, and skills are removed and the west says nothing. Amazing. We send aid to countries whose healthcare workers we use, whose education has not been paid for, and whose family are likely left in the homeland. This is not okay, is it?

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  • Why is it considered "off putting" to potential health workers to be asked to converse in the language of the country that they intend to practice healthcare in? Surely it should be a basic requirement to be able to converse with the sick and dying who they are nursing. Further is it too much to ask that the sick and dying should be able to understand those who are looking after them? I agree with the comment dated 27th May at 2.38pm in any other country the very least requirement a health worker would be required to have, is the ability to competently speak the language of the country they are practising in. With the best will in the world, there is absolutely no point in having a health service provided by people who cannot understand us and whom we cannot understand.

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  • One of the reasons I left the NHS to work abroad was in my last year, I was working with many foreign agency nurses especially on night shifts when the staff ratio was lower.

    Due to the lack of English language skills the nurses could not understand orders etc so us native English speaking nurses ended up doing the work of others as well as our own.
    There was a dangerous incident on one night shift, we were 3 staff at nights, two were non native English speaking, this caused problems endangering life not for the first time. It was within the next two days I handed my resignation in.
    I now work abroad in Cyprus and in order to work in the government hospitals here we have to pass international B2 level Greek, reading and writing. Since this legislation came into practice there has been virtually no non Cypriot nurses taken on in government hospitals.

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  • The NMC is yet to make any statement about what form (or forms) of proof will be required, but if they default to the same IELTS certificate as they require of international (non-EU) nurses then that adds another 200 Euros to the cost of a nurse registering with NMC. Plus, they may not live in or near a large city where they can take that test (usually only held once a month), thus adding further cost and delay to a process that is already lengthy and expensive.

    I hope that the NMC declares at the beginning of the public consultation what will constitute sufficient "proof". For example, if a nurse is interviewed on video and seen/heard to be conversing easily in English, will that be sufficient proof. If an agency in their home country conducts their own assessment of a candidate's fluency level, will that be okay?

    One big issue that with IELTS is that it only tests general language skills - there is no assessment whatsoever of vocabulary specific to medicine/caring. Furthermore, the ability to understand regional UK accents or colloquialisms is not tested, nor is the ability to understand the accent of a patient whose own first language is not English.

    This is a minefield.

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  • The patients & taxpayers insist they speak English

    Also that their qualifications have been properly checked

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  • Patient safety comes first and that means good communication skills are required.
    Is there any valid reason why foreign nurses should NOT take language skills tests in the UK?
    I think not.

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  • The test must stay!
    I am British, I was born here, I hold a legit Britsh passport and I have been a qualified registered RN for 36 years. I can't work in my own country!
    I trained in South Africa, a commonwealth country.
    Not only did I have to prove I speak, understand and write perfect English but I, like many others, (1000's in fact) have to take a CBT at a cost of £130 plus a clinical exam at a cost of £995, before we can be registered.
    This does not apply to EU nurses, so the least we can expect from them is that they can at least speak, write and understand the language of the UK, English!

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  • Quite obviously, nobody disagrees that EU nurses must be able to speak English. But the means of testing that fluency is important. As Anonymous 3:17 pm says - there are already nurses, registered by NMC, whose English is not good enough to be able to function effectively and safely. Currently, the onus is on the EMPLOYER to verify their fluency. Some trusts may, in desperation to raise nurse numbers, have "glossed over" that requirement. Most certainly, unscrupulous agency staff suppliers HAVE employed nurses from EU countries without properly verifying their language level. (Simon Stevens was right: we ARE being ripped off by agencies.)

    Now that the legal barrier has been removed, the NMC is taking on the responsibility for checking language skills. The question is: will they "play safe" and use the same standard as has already been applied to international recruits - the IELTS test? I just hope the new standards they apply are more imaginative than that.

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  • I feel quite strongly about this subject as I am doing the return to nursing practice course at the moment due to living in Italy for many years and not practicing. I missed nursing very much but felt it was not correct of me to work in such a high risk to life professsion. My Italian is good, but perhaps not good enough in an emergency situation where misunderstandings could mean a life. I don't have anything against bringing in European nurses but their level of English must be excellent.

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