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EU campaign nurses to meet NMC on language tests

A campaigning group of European nurses are set to meet with the Nursing and Midwifery Council to press for the pass mark for English language tests to be lowered.
campaign

Nurses belonging to a group campaigning for the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit are set to meet with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to press for the pass mark for English language tests to be lowered.

Representatives from pressure group the3Million told the Nursing Standard they will meet the regulator amid concerns over the International English Language Test System (IELTS).

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

Candidates have to achieve a score of seven out of nine in the categories of writing, speaking, listening and reading in order to be accepted onto the NMC Register.

The pass threshold has been

Nurses belonging to a group campaigning for the rights of EU citizens in the UK after Brexit are set to meet with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to press for the pass mark for English language tests to be lowered.

campaign
Joan Pons Laplana: at least make the written test about medicine
and health services. Picture: Barney Newman

Representatives from pressure group the3Million told the Nursing Standard they will meet the regulator amid concerns over the International English Language Test System (IELTS).

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

Candidates have to achieve a score of seven out of nine in the categories of writing, speaking, listening and reading in order to be accepted onto the NMC Register.

The pass threshold has been criticised by senior nurses and healthcare organisations struggling to recruit staff, leading the NMC to announce in May it would ‘stocktake’ its IELTS procedure.

Patients group

But charity and lobby group the Patients Association has expressed concerns about any move to lower pass marks, insisting NHS staff must be 'competent enough in English to effectively communicate with patients.'

Transformation nurse at James Paget University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust Joan Pons Laplana said the regulator should at least make the written test about medicine and health services. A member of the campaign group, he says the written test is hardest to pass and a lower score of 6.5 should be acceptable.

He said: ‘The written test is currently set to university master's degree level, and it can be on any subject.

‘We have found little or no evidence that serious harm or death has been caused by nurses not being able to write English to that standard.

Clear argument

‘We know the NMC’s priority is safeguarding patients, but we think there is a clear argument to lower the banding. They could even put the speaking mark up to 8 to compensate.

‘If they won’t agree, at least make the written test about medicine and health services, something nurses have experience of.’

Papers published ahead of an NMC council meeting in June revealed the regulator said there is 'no compelling evidence' that the tests are too advanced. However, the council has agreed to provide additional support to candidates and consider other testing methods.

Mr Laplana told Nursing Standard that a member of the campaign group will make a presentation at the meeting on how the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland currently screens applicants to its register.

Ireland comparison

In Ireland, nurses who have trained in the European Union (EU) or EEA do not have to provide proof of their English skills.

Only candidates from outside the EU or EEA who do not have English as a first language have to take an IELTS exam, in which the written test pass score is the same as in the UK.

The3million was founded in Bristol following the referendum result last year to represent the rights of the estimated number of EU citizens who have moved from another member state to live and work in the UK, including more than 36,000 nurses, and British citizens in Europe after Brexit.

A petition on change.org started by Aberdeen-based adult health nurse Febin Cyriac calling on the NMC to lower the IELTS pass banding for EU/EEA staff currently has 12,700 signatures.


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