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English language tests change for EU and overseas nurses

Nursing and Midwifery Council relaxes rules for English language tests

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has been urged to ensure overseas nurses have competent English skills in light of changes to its language tests. 


Patients Association chief executive Katherine Murphy 

Nurses and midwives who have trained in the European economic area or overseas must undertake reading, writing, speaking and listening tests to be eligible to join the NMC register and work in the UK.

Previously candidates had to achieve a score of at least 7 in all 4 tests in one sitting. Yesterday, the NMC announced that nurses can have six months from the date of their first test to repeat the test and achieve 7 or higher in all 4 tests. 

Staffing pressures

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said the change was in response to staffing pressures. Some NHS employers complained that the previous system was too difficult and was preventing them from recruiting from abroad.

In response to the move, the Patients Association called on the NMC to ensure that ‘all nurses are fully competent to deliver high-class care’.

Its chief executive Katherine Murphy welcomed the contribution of foreign nurses to healthcare in the UK, but she added: ‘We hear from patients on our helpline that there are real issues with nurses from other countries, including problems with communication and a lack of understanding of processes and procedures.

Mistakes and misunderstandings

‘If the NHS does employ nurses from other countries, it must ensure that they are fully qualified and competent to carry out their duties – and that they are competent enough in English to effectively communicate with patients. 

‘We are concerned that poor English skills may lead to mistakes and misunderstandings between healthcare colleagues or when patients are trying to explain their problems.’

Ms Murphy added that the NHS must invest in training and recruitment of nurses from within the UK, rather than spending on ‘costly recruitment of foreign nurses, who are often just a short-term measure to fill a gap’. 

More flexibility

Under the new system, candidates cannot score less than 6.5 in any of the areas during the tests. 

They can take the tests more than twice within a six month-period, but a NMC spokesperson said this was unlikely due to the time it takes to book tests.  

The NMC said the new system will give applicants more flexibility while ensuring the required standard of English is achieved. 

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