The UK’s NHS has been facing staffing problems for some time and has now decided that they will reconsider the English language requirements for foreign nurses. This is so that more of them will be able to enter the UK’s healthcare system and provide the necessary manpower.

Nurses from many countries are often flown into the UK to work, such as from India, Australia and Europe. However, since 2007, language tests have been made mandatory for all foreign nurses wishing to work in the UK.

However, critics have claimed that the language tests have impossible standards and were extremely difficult to pass. This even caused nurses whose native language was English to fail the test and be unable to come in. These included nurses from New Zealand and Australia who failed the test even though they’ve been speaking the language all their lives.

Tests introduced to curb miscommunication

The NHS is now facing a shortage of about 40,000 nurses. Back in 2007, it required foreign nurses to take the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and score a minimum score of band 7 out of 9, with 9 being the highest achievable score.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) once introduced the IELTS requirements as a way to prevent medical mishaps, which can happen as a result of a nurses’ poor command of English. One example of the importance of English in UK medicine would be a case that dates back to 2008 – where a German GP, Daniel Ubani caused the death of 70-year-old David Gray when he injected the senior citizen with 10 times the safe dosage of diamorphine.

Nurses from places where English is widely spoken, such as the Phillippines, India, Australia and New Zealand have struggled with the IELTS tests, especially in the essay portion where they are required to write long form articles. At the moment, only nurses from European Union nations have the option of bypassing this test. They are allowed to show proof that they have recently qualified in the language or have spent at least two years working in an English language speaking country.

Easier English language tests

The NMC is now considering allowing all foreign nurses to bypass the difficult IELTS tests and sit, instead, for an easier test, such as the Occupational English Test.

The UK government put into effect a policy in 2016 that made it mandatory for all public sector bodies to enforce strict tests for all foreign workers. They believed that this would control immigration and protect the current local workforce. As a result of this policy, the NMC introduced high IELTS standards – however, this has led to a drastic drop in the number of foreign nurses qualifying for a place in the UK. The NMC recorded 1,304 EU nurses in July 2016; but that number has dropped to only 46, in April 2017.

Additionally, a survey of 14 NHS trusts revealed that up to 50% of its 2,000 strong staff of nurses have been removed or stopped, after failing the tests.

Recruitment agencies like HCL Solutions have opined that the current English language requirements are unjustified. For this reason, the NMC is sitting down to deliberate a new standard for all foreign nurses that could go into effect as early as end of October 2017.

This is definitely good news for nurses who have previously failed in their applications to the NMC due to inadequate grades in their previous IELTS scores. This new policy will no doubt also help acute staff shortages currently faced by the NHS. MIMS

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Sources:
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4916572/Language-exams-foreign-nurses-relaxed.html
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/23/nurses-language-tests-immigration-nhs