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NMC chief responds to concerns over language test review

Chief executive Jackie Smith says language requirements for international nurses may not change, and review ‘does not mean we are going to lower the test score’.
Jackie Smith

The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has addressed concerns that a review of language tests for overseas nurses will lead to the pass mark being lowered.

The regulator has said it will stocktake evidence on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), academic tests in reading, writing, listening and speaking ability.

Recruitment issues

IELTS were introduced in 2007 for overseas nurses wanting to join the NMC register, but extended last year to nurses trained in the European Economic Area.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told Nursing Standard: There have been concerns raised by a number of organisations about the problems they are having recruiting, and what they are saying is a number of international and European nurses applying

The chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has addressed concerns that a review of language tests for overseas nurses will lead to the pass mark being lowered.


The NMC chief executive Jackie Smith has raised concerns about the 
language test review for overseas nurses. Picture: Barney Newman

The regulator has said it will ‘stocktake’ evidence on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), academic tests in reading, writing, listening and speaking ability.

Recruitment issues

IELTS were introduced in 2007 for overseas nurses wanting to join the NMC register, but extended last year to nurses trained in the European Economic Area.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith told Nursing Standard: ‘There have been concerns raised by a number of organisations about the problems they are having recruiting, and what they are saying is a number of international and European nurses applying to join the register are finding the English language test difficult to pass.

‘We need to look at the evidence, so we are gathering the evidence and data from the British Council, which runs the test for us, to see whether there are particular groups or organisations who are finding it more challenging. But it does not mean we are going to lower the test score.’

Some senior nurse leaders have called for the IELTS to be replaced or augmented by a UK version of the Canadian English Language Benchmark Assessment for Nurses, which tests clinical language.

Cultural aspects

Ms Smith said: ‘One of the points that has been put to us is could we change it so some of the cultural aspects around communication can be dealt with more easily, that's what we are looking at. I don't know if that is the road we will go down.’

Evidence will be presented at the next NMC council meeting in July.

Ms Smith said changes were 'very unlikely' before autumn, adding: ‘If we make any changes at all, and I do need to stress that. People are running away with the idea we have lowered the score, and we just haven't.’

The NMC initially required a 7.0 pass mark for all four tests in one sitting, but changed the rules last June to accept a 7.0 mark for the tests over a maximum of two sittings, providing nurses do not score less than 6.5 at any stage of the testing process.

The General Medical Council requires that doctors have an overall score of 7.5.

In a report to the NMC, Ms Smith said the ‘foremost consideration must always be protection of the public and patients’, and that evidence will inform a decision on whether any variation is needed.


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