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English language requirements for overseas nurses to be eased

Nursing and Midwifery Council green-lights changes to testing that had been criticised for being too difficult and blocking thousands of potential nurse recruits

Nursing and Midwifery Council green-lights changes to testing that had been criticised for being too difficult and blocking thousands of potential nurse recruits

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has approved changes to nurses’ English language requirements to make it easier for overseas nurses to register in the UK.

The regulator gave the green light at a full council meeting today , and said the changes aim to ‘provide a fair and reliable approach’ to making sure nursing and midwifery professionals can ‘communicate safely and effectively in English’.

Many nurses have struggled with existing language requirements, says regulator

NMC executive director of

Nursing and Midwifery Council green-lights changes to testing that had been criticised for being too difficult and blocking thousands of potential nurse recruits

Picture: iStock

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has approved changes to nurses’ English language requirements to make it easier for overseas nurses to register in the UK.

The regulator gave the green light at a full council meeting today, and said the changes aim to ‘provide a fair and reliable approach’ to making sure nursing and midwifery professionals can ‘communicate safely and effectively in English’.

Many nurses have struggled with existing language requirements, says regulator

NMC executive director of strategy and insight Matthew McClelland said the plans ‘strike the right balance’ between maintaining high standards for safe practice and providing additional flexibility for those taking the tests.

The recommendations had strong support from council members, with many noting the significant impact they will have on nurses who struggled to get through the existing test process.

Two key changes to language requirements were considered – including a revamp of minimum scores on English language tests and whether other supportive evidence from employers should be considered when authorising a nurse as competent. The NMC previously said the changes would not compromise safe and effective care.

The regulator’s eight-week consultation earlier this year on the proposed changes received 34,000 responses from nurses and other interested parties – the biggest response to any consultation by the regulator.

Proposals were questioned by public and midwives

Mr McClelland said the feedback showed that members of the public had more reservations about the recommendations than staff, employers and stakeholders. Meanwhile the Royal College of Midwives did not support the proposal to accept supporting evidence from employers due to concerns about ‘inconsistency’.

However, Mr McClelland said the NMC believes mitigations put in place – including the requirement to have been employed for at least 12 months in the past two years – will ‘continue to promote public safety, without reducing standards’.

Existing requirements could have led to ‘NHS missing out on thousands of nurses’

Under the current system, those who join the register must show their English language competence either through having taken an approved test, trained in English or practiced in an English-speaking country as a nurse or midwife.

Nurse researchers and union representatives previously warned that the NHS was missing out on thousands of qualified nurses who have made their home in the UK but struggle to pass unnecessarily harsh English language tests.

NHS trusts to receive more money for overseas recruitment

The go-ahead for the changes comes as NHS trusts recruiting nurses from overseas are set to be paid £7,000 per nurse from January to March 2023 in a bid to plug the UK’s workforce shortage. This is more than double the current £3,000 provided per nurse.


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