Overseas-trained nurses given extra chance on competency tests

NMC changes rules on exams to practise in the UK, offering applicants more flexibility and shorter wait to re-apply.
Competence test

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has increased the number of times overseas-trained nurses can sit the exam to be allowed to practise in the UK.

The University of Northampton has expanded its OSCE test centre to meet
increased demand. Picture: Philip Reeson

The regulator said the move would ease pressure on overseas nurses, who may face time constraints when re-sitting the exam due to visa restrictions.

Competency test

Nurses and midwives trained outside the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) who want to join the NMC register must pass a two-part competency test.

The first part is computer-based and can be taken anywhere in the world. If successful, the applicant can then take the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) in the UK.

The OSCE requires applicants to act out scenarios that nurses and midwives are likely to encounter when assessing, planning, carrying out and evaluating care.

At present, any nurse or midwife who fails to pass the OSCE at their first attempt can re-sit ten days later. If they fail for a second time they must wait six months before re-applying.

From this month, nurses trained overseas will be allowed to sit the OSCE for a third time within the same application, and will only have to wait three months to re-apply.

The NMC said the six-month wait put ‘considerable pressure’ on candidates on tier two immigration visas, with applicants either having to start the application again within a tight timeframe or leave the country if they don’t have enough time left on their visa.

Last month, a freedom of information request by the RCN revealed that 2,700 EU nurses working in the UK left the NMC register in 2016, amid uncertainty over Brexit.

‘Every opportunity’

Unison head of health Christina McAnea said: ‘When the NHS is struggling to fill nursing and midwifery vacancies it makes sense to give every opportunity to qualified overseas staff to pass the NMC’s tests.

‘Employers could do more to help candidates prepare for the tests. Results are better where they do.

‘The NHS invests time and money in recruiting staff from overseas. Allowing them to re-sit tests will save cash in the long run and allow patients to get the care they deserve sooner.’

The University of Northampton expanded its OSCE test centre last month to meet increased demand.

NMC chief executive Jackie Smith said: ‘Coming to work in a new country can be daunting and we want to make it is as straightforward as possible for nurses and midwives to demonstrate that they can meet the standards required to work in the UK.’

In other news