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Further trust calls for rethink on language tests for overseas nurses

A further trust has added its voice to calls to rethink the language tests required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for overseas nurses to work in the UK.

A further trust has added its voice to calls to rethink the language tests required by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) for overseas nurses to work in the UK.


The Nursing and Midwifery Council urges a reassessment
of the language test for overseas nurses. Picture: iStock

Walsall Healthcare NHS Trust’s director of nursing Rachel Overfield has spoken of how her efforts to fill more than 100 posts at Walsall Manor Hospital could have been realised if International English Language Test (IELTS) exam requirements were lowered.

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

Pass mark

IELTS require a pass mark of 7.0 in all four areas of English proficiency; writing, reading, listening and speaking.

The pass threshold has been criticised by senior nurses and healthcare organisations struggling to recruit staff, but an NMC report as part of a ‘stocktake’ of evidence on IELTs found there was ‘no compelling evidence’ for reducing the required score from 7.0.

The tests have also been criticised for being too academic.

Ms Overfield is quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying: ‘We went overseas to the Philippines twice in the last year. We have offered posts to in excess of hundred nurses there.

UK standard

‘Three have arrived. The reason is we just can’t get them through the IELT. And the reason for that is the UK sets the standard to pass higher than anywhere else in the world.’

Earlier this year, Nursing Standard revealed the number of European nurses applying to join the UK register had dropped since IELTS were extended to cover EEA nurses, as well as those from elsewhere.

And in February 2016, East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust’s director of workforce and organisational development Thomas Simons wrote to the NMC to ask them to reconsider the tests.

He said 140 Filipino nurses had been barred from joining the trust because they only had a score of 6.5, at the same time as the organisation was facing a 15% nurse vacancy rate.

Occupational English test

At  NMC council meeting on 5 July, the regulator agreed to explore providing additional support to candidates sitting the IELTS, and to consider other testing methods, such as the Occupational English test.

The council also approved a review the written element of IELTS, and conducting work with patient and public groups to understand their views.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith has previously said that 'foremost consideration must always be protection of the public and patients’ when considering changes to language tests.


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