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Ministers propose mandatory English language checks for nurses

  • 27 Comments

Nurses from the European Union may soon be required to take a test proving they are suitably equipped to speak English before working in the NHS.

Nurses from outside the EU are asked for evidence that they have passed the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) but a legal loophole has prevented this being applied to EU nurses.

Under new controls proposed by ministers, if EU applicants are unable to demonstrate that they understand the English language, they will be required to take a test instead, such as the IELTS.

Once they have shown they can use the English language, applicants will be assessed against the NMC’s usual requirements, such as character and health checks, before being allowed entry onto the register.

“The RCN has been calling for this change as it is vital that language skills can be tested before people start caring for patients”

Peter Carter

When approved, the NMC says the changes will be implemented following public consultation, and become effective later this year.

Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the RCN, said: “The health service relies on nurses from overseas, who have come to the UK to provide good care for patients since the NHS was founded. 

“The RCN has been calling for this change as it is vital that language skills can be tested before people start caring for patients. Good communication skills are at the heart of good nursing.”

However, Dr Carter said the regulations do not automatically mean a nurse who has completed a language test will be recruited from another country and go straight onto NHS wards. “A nurse coming from overseas will also need a proper induction,” he said.

“Public safety must be the driving force behind this and, as such, these proposals make a lot of sense”

Louise Silverton

The Royal College of Midwives also offered approval. Louise Silverton, director for midwifery, said: “Public safety must be the driving force behind this and, as such, these proposals make a lot of sense. They will help to ensure that midwives who work in the UK have the level of competence in reading, writing and speaking English needed to ensure good communication with the people they care for.”

Health minister Dr Dan Poulter hailed the move, which relies on cross-party support, as a boost for patient safety, after regulations were put before Parliament, clearing the path for a Commons vote within weeks.

He said: “These powers will make it easier for regulatory bodies to carry out checks to ensure healthcare professionals have the necessary knowledge of English.”

A shortfall in British-trained nursing staff has seen demand for foreign nurses soar in recent years, with many trusts hiring from EU and non-EU countries.

  • 27 Comments

Readers' comments (27)

  • your to late the door isn't and the horse has bolted whats next

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  • You mean You're too late.....Am I correct Anon?

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  • Pussy

    What kept them? Better late than never I suppose but there again it's not a definite.

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  • In addition to maths tests, we might be hit with more English language tests ;) spoken and written for good communication and accurate contemporaneous documentation of patients care. This might be tricky for some people regardless of where they come from.

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  • The record numbers will soon decline then

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  • all overseas nurses should take the test

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  • Isn't it funny how often those most hostile toward outsiders seem have the poorest language skills themselves....

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  • GABRIELA BRIAZU

    I absolutely agree with this. Good communication skills and especially good knowledge of English language is paramount in providing good care for patients. Not the most important but even if you are highly professionally skilled you cannot provide good service without good communication and language skills. As a nurse coming from European country myself, I appreciate how important is to have perceptorship and an proper induction. I have to admit I have struggled myself in the first years as the perceptorship was not compulsory when I first started in NHS therefore it wasn't offered to me. It was more of a case of being determined to self- adapt and learn which I did. But I've seen many failing to adapt and left the job going back to their countries. I guess the language tests are needed in order to increase the safety of the patients and improve the quality of the services.

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  • About time! All nurses for whom English is not their first language should have the test and a maths test as well. Too many are appalling at working out drug doses.

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  • michael stone

    GABRIELA BRIAZU has dealt with this one - all patient-facing HCPs (including doctors) need to be competent in English if they are interacting with English speakers, or else there is a significant risk of misunderstandings leading to bad outcomes.

    From what I can gather, the 'too many nurses are not great with maths' point mentioned above, applies to home-grown nurses as well (regularly crops up in NT).

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