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Competency test for some overseas nurses could be scrapped

After a consultation to streamline registrations the government will look at changing legislation later this week

After a consultation to streamline registrations the government will look at changing legislation later this week

The government will look at legislation this week that could see competency tests for some overseas nurses scrapped in a bid to plug ever-growing workforce gaps.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed it will lay out legalisation today as parliament resumes and Liz Truss was announced as prime minister, promising to deliver for the NHS in her acceptance speech. But the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has confirmed it has no plans to move away from its current test of competency.

Changes come after consultation on proposals to streamline registrations

The changes follow a

After a consultation to streamline registrations the government will look at changing legislation later this week

The government is looking at legislation this week to scrap competency tests for some overseas nurses
Picture: iStock

The government will look at legislation this week that could see competency tests for some overseas nurses scrapped in a bid to plug ever-growing workforce gaps.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has confirmed it will lay out legalisation today as parliament resumes and Liz Truss was announced as prime minister, promising to deliver for the NHS in her acceptance speech. But the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has confirmed it has no plans to move away from its current test of competency.

Changes come after consultation on proposals to streamline registrations

The changes follow a consultation earlier this year to change registration requirements for international nurses, along with international dentists.

The consultation, which closed in May, made several proposals to ‘streamline registrations’ with the NMC, including scrapping the competency test for applicants who hold an NMC-approved qualification and meets the regulator’s requirements.

All non-European Union applicants have to sit a competency test that covers numeracy and clinical questions under existing legislation.

In limited situations the NMC may also be allowed to recognise overseas nurses’ qualifications if a government-to-government trade deal has taken place, meaning nursing qualifications from certain countries may be applicable in the UK.

NMC welcomes move, but RCN warns about bending the rules

The legislation forms part of the government’s plan to increase overseas recruitment in a bid to plug the near 47,000 nurse shortage facing the NHS in England. Health secretary Steve Barclay has previously said he wants NHS bosses to visit countries such as India and the Philippines as part of a major recruitment spree.

It follows a report by The Guardian containing a leaked DHSC document that outlines the proposals, and cites ‘excessive detail’ on the process the NMC must follow to assess international applicants. The memo adds that the proposed changes would allow the NMC to ‘explore alternative registration routes’.

The NMC said they welcomed the proposed changes as it would ‘update the requirements for some of the documents we need from international applicants to our register, and clarify how we assess applications'.

NMC assistant director for registrations and revalidation Linda Everet added: ‘The rest of our process and requirements remain the same. While this amended legislation gives us greater flexibility for the future, we currently have no plans to move away from the test of competence as our primary route to the register for internationally trained professionals, who make a vital contribution to UK health and care services.'

But the RCN has branded the move as bending the rules to raid other countries in need of their nurses, rather than focusing on training and retaining the domestic workforce.

Concerns about overreliance on overseas recruitment

RCN general secretary Pat Cullen said: ‘Figures from the nursing regulator show a tenfold increase since the 2019 general election in the number of nurses joining from countries identified as having the most severe workforce shortages.

‘It’s plain to see that an overreliance on overseas recruitment can be harmful to the countries we’re taking from. We will fight ministers if they believe the best way to respond to record numbers of unfilled nurse jobs – on their watch – is to raid other countries. Rules are being bent to cover up unethical moves.’

The legislation comes as the RCN prepares to ballot its members on strike action next week over the government’s pay offer.

Ms Cullen added: ‘Ultimately the only way to address our workforce crisis is to recruit and retain more domestic nursing staff – and a simple way to do that is to pay them fairly.’

The Health Foundation senior visiting fellow James Buchan said: ‘Reports that there will be legislative change to make it easier to recruit nurses and dentists internationally reinforces just how policy critical this quick-fix solution to NHS staff shortages has become.

‘We need to keep in mind that the primary role of the nursing and dental council regulators is to protect the public. Any changes to support even faster-track international recruitment should not compromise this responsibility. Neither should it lead to any increased risk that international recruits are treated unfairly.’


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