Doctors call for bolstered language tests for non-UK nurses

Standardised testing of general and clinical English language skills for all overseas nurses, doctors and dentists would improve patient safety, says Royal College of Surgeons.

All nurses, doctors and dentists who come to work in the UK from other countries should demonstrate the same level of general and clinical English language skills, the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) has urged.

The RCS says English language test standards for the three professions should be brought into line with one another, amid fears patient safety was being put at risk because testing was not stringent enough.

It also says the EU referendum result offered a chance to standardise the tests for people from the EU and other countries by introducing clinical language tests for applicants from the European Economic Area (EEA).

Higher pass mark

Currently nurses, doctors and dentists from within the EEA can take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), which tests general non-clinical English language skills, to join UK professional registers.

However, while doctors need a score of 7.5 out of 9, nurses and dentists need to attain 7.

The RCS wants to see all nurses, doctors and dentists from the EEA and other foreign countries tested on general and clinical language skills, and achieve the same higher score in the IELTS.

Proof of clinical language skills

RCS dean of the faculty of dental surgery Nigel Hunt said: ‘While the professional regulators are able to require proof of the clinical language skills of non-EU applicants, the same checks do not apply to EEA applicants and our fear is that this could be putting patients at risk. We want the same rules to apply to all non-UK professionals, regardless of where in the world they come from.’

‘At the very least we would like to see all regulators copy the General Medical Council’s lead [on general language skills scores].’

An NMC spokesperson told Nursing Standard all EU/EEA nurses joining the UK register must provide proof of their English language skills, and IELTS is the most commonly used method.

‘IELTS is a robust, well-established and internationally recognised method of testing English language ability, which is also used by the Home Office and other healthcare regulators in English-speaking countries across the world, and IELTS level 7 is the common requirement,’ the spokesperson said.

Figures obtained by the RCS show 29 of the 29,883 EEA doctors on the GMC’s UK medical register faced allegations relating to inadequate English language skills in 2014/15. Collection of nursing figures only began in January this year.

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