Career advice

Care home tutor helps overseas nurses join UK register

A care home in Yorkshire is giving lessons to nurses from outside Europe who are working as carers to help them pass tests in English and nursing competency so they can achieve UK registration


A care home in Yorkshire is giving lessons to nurses from outside Europe who are working as carers to help them pass tests in English and nursing competency so they can achieve UK nurse registration

Picture: Alamy

Foreign nurses working as carers at a nursing home in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, are being given lessons by their employer to help them achieve UK nurse registration.

‘They have lots of skills, but aren’t allowed to use them. They were frustrated and found it hard,’ says Krishnapillai Sivanandarajah, manager at Berwick Grange, a 52-bed home for people with dementia and one of 90 homes run by Methodist Homes for the Aged (MHA).

Annual appraisals of the seven staff members, who are from countries outside the European Economic Area and are registered nurses in their home countries, showed they were all keen to progress but that their biggest hurdle was the compulsory English test.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council requires such foreign nurses to score 7 out of 9 in all four sections of the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam – writing, speaking, listening and reading – though it is considering accepting alternative methods of assessment.

Tailored support

Some of the carers had just missed the required level, while others struggled due to shift work, family commitments, the cost of the test and the location of the test centre.

‘They can communicate with patients and staff and write reports, but they just didn’t have the skills to pass the exam,’ says Mr Sivanandarajah. ‘We felt we had a pool of talent in our workforce that was not being put to best use.

‘They were loyal, committed to the care home and had the enthusiasm to learn new skills, but they needed some extra help to fulfil their potential.’

To provide them with tailored support, the home brought in a personal tutor who assessed them before devising individual learning plans to improve both spoken and written English. Using a combination of face-to-face and online learning has helped the staff fit their studies around shifts and family responsibilities.

Competency test

The project has been backed enthusiastically by the home’s other staff, relatives and volunteers, who help the carers practise their language skills. The home has also bought books and will pay their exam fees.

The group will take a practice English exam in December and sit the real test in the new year. ‘That’s stage one,’ says Mr Sivanandarajah. ‘Once they pass, they’ll do their nursing exam. We’re already starting to prepare them to take that, hopefully in three or four months.’

As well as passing the English language requirement, non-EEA nurses must achieve a two-stage nursing competency test: a computer-based examination of theoretical practice-based knowledge, and the objective structured clinical examination, administered by a university test centre. This demonstrates a candidate’s ability to apply knowledge to the care of patients at the level expected of a newly registered nurse.

Investing in talent

If the programme is successful the plan is to look at how many carers across the organisation are in a similar position and offer them the same support to achieve their goals. ‘If we have seven staff in just one home, there could be hundreds more across the UK,’ says Mr Sivanandarajah.

He believes investing in their talent will help retain existing staff and recruit newcomers, with the project possibly providing a longer-term solution to nursing shortages, especially those faced by care homes.

‘These staff are already working in a care home environment, so when they become registered they will prefer to carry on working here because that’s what they know,’ he says.

Lynne Pearce is a freelance health journalist

Further information

Alternate English language tests to IELTS may soon be accepted by NMC


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