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NMC questioned on 'alarming' lack of language tests for EU nurses


More stringent language and competency tests for European nurses are needed to protect patients and avoid more failures in basic care, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has told MPs.

Speaking at a House of Commons health committee hearing last week, NMC assistant director for nursing and midwifery policy Katerina Kolyva said the regulator was unable to test European nurses’ language skills or practice fully.

Under European law, the NMC is not allowed to test nurses from within the European Economic Area on their grasp of the English language.

Conservative MP David Tredinnick asked Ms Kolyva if she considered this “an alarming situation”. She replied: “It is indeed.”

Mr Tredinnick suggested language issues were “why we have had highly publicised cases in recent years of nurses who have apparently not met the standards through confusion over language and different standards”.

NMC chief executive and registrar Dickon Weir-Hughes confirmed to MPs he thought that was the case.

Ms Kolyva also suggested training standards in Europe were outdated compared with those of the UK, when asked by the committee whether nurses from the EU were trained to UK levels.

“They’re trained to EU standards, which were set many years ago; they date back to the 1970s,” she said.

Most nurses who have trained in the EU can automatically work in the UK. For nurses with shortfalls in training or qualifications, multiple choice “aptitude” tests were introduced in April.

Ms Kolyva said some language competency was picked up through these written tests.

She also pointed out that definitions of nurses and midwives “vary considerably” across EU member states.

For example, she said, in some European countries midwives merely supported women for a few days before birth and a “few hours” afterwards, while those in the UK looked after them throughout labour and for at least 10 days after birth.

The NMC is working with the Department of Health on finding a way to resolve the language issue.


Readers' comments (6)

  • I quite agree about the dangers of language barriers in our profession.
    This article also answers the question French student nurses have asked me about how their qualification would be considered in England.
    As a practising nurse here in France, I am witnessing change in nurses training. Now a university course for all student nurses, this includes English as an obligatory subject, & I have been teaching English with a nursing bias to students since the curriculum changed two years ago. This will not only be useful to these newly qualified nurses should they wish to practice in an English speaking country, but also with helping the increasing number of English speaking patients being treated here in France.

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  • anne bonnet | 21-Jun-2011 6:29 pm

    also necessary for reading the numerous published in the English and American nursing journals which are not available in French

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  • i have lived, been educated worked and trained in the UK and i was still required to sit the IELTS for the australian nursing board. I think anyone outside the uk should sit the english exam. there are far too many nurses and doctors who cannot be understood by myself let alone the patients i care for.

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  • Absolutely agree with this. Communication is FUNDAMENTAL to our profession. If I cannot speak a language of a specific country, how can I be expected to Nurse a patient there properly? I can't. So I wouldn't attempt to work there. I would love to live and work in Japan say, but I am in no way fluent in Japanese, so I wouldn't expect myself to Nurse my patients there to the best of my ability. It is not too much to expect of other Nurses coming here. It is not just Nurses however, I have had the misfortune of working with many bank HCAs who turned up for shift and quite literally could not speak a word of English. They were willing to work, but could not speak to the patients, could not understand instructions and could not pass on any information to me! It would have been better quite frankly they were not there at all. Language skills are fundamental, the fact that the NHS and private sector are employing people without the requisite language skills to fill whatever quota they have is quite frankly shameful.

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  • Steve Williams

    What's Europe's problem with this? English (or French) competency tests are MANDATORY here in Canada (depending on what region of the country you decide to practice in) for all nurses who do not have either as their first language.

    I wouldn't be allowed to work in Quebec, my GCE O-Level French simply wouldn't pass muster.

    It's not discrimination (or even rocket science) - merely ensuring safe practice standards.

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  • What does every child death enquiry point out- failure to communicate and that we as professionals need to get better at it. Now if the professionals cannot speak English at a fluent level how are they going to be able to communicate to advocate for their patients? This is just dangerous!

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