European Union nurses who want to work in the UK will in the future be required to pass an International English Language Testing System exam if they cannot prove they are proficient in using English, despite concerns about the test’s robustness.
At a meeting today, the Nursing and Midwifery Council approved the policy and guidance for the new rules, which will come into effect next year.
“It’s important to remember what our core purpose is – it’s about protection of the public and patients”
It brings rules into line with English tests for applicants from outside the EEA.
The council also agreed that any allegation against a nurse or midwife already on the register that raises concerns about their knowledge of English should in the future be considered grounds for fitness to practise procedures.
From January 2016, the NMC will require applicants from countries in the European Economic Area – which includes the European Union and Scandinavia – to produce evidence showing their English language competency.
This evidence will include either having passed the IELTS within the past two years, having trained on a pre-registration course that included at least 75% clinical interaction in English, or having practised for two years in a native English country that required language assessment for registration.
If they cannot demonstrate competence, the applicant will have to pass the IELTS test, with a minimum of 7.0 in each of the four areas of reading, writing, listening and speaking.
In an NMC consultation of on how to implement the new rules, almost 40% of the 723 registrants and organisations who responded said they did not agree with the types of evidence the regulator was proposing to accept, as previously reported by Nursing Times.
Most respondents who were unhappy questioned the use of IELTS, claiming that it only assessed academic knowledge of English and does not demonstrate competence in a clinical setting.
There were also concerns that the suggested minimum score of 7.0 was too high.
At the NMC council meeting today, council member Stephen Thornton noted there was a lack of support for the NMC’s plans on how to implement the language checks.
“I am pleased though that, despite that, we are going to move forward on this and hope we will support this because I think it’s important to remember what our core purpose is – it’s about protection of the public and patients,” he said.
He said the NMC would need to persuade organisations and individuals about the use of the IELTS.
“It is fundamental that you should be able to communicate and it’s about public protection and that’s our job”
When asked by a council member about the potential negative impact of using the test, NMC director of registration Alison Sansome admitted that when the General Medical Council introduced the IELTS test in 2014 “they did find a lot of [European doctors] failed that test initially”.
But, she said, that meant it was important for the NMC to communicate effectively with applicants to ensure they prepare fully in advance.
Meanwhile, NMC director of strategy Jon Billings said the IELTS was very established, noting it was already used by other healthcare regulators.
NMC chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith said the regulator would be monitoring how many applicants fail the test.
She said: “It’s important that we provide information to the council on the numbers of EU applicants who fail the English language controls so we can understand the implications in respect of the flow of new applicants to our register.
“We are not apologetic about his – it is fundamental that you should be able to communicate and it’s about public protection and that’s our job,” she added.