Language requirements for foreign nurses to be relaxed amid staffing crisis

Changes intended to ease the 'significant pressure' on workforce after figures revealed 42,000 nursing vacancies in England alone

Thursday 22 November 2018 00:59
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There are almost 42,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS
There are almost 42,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS

The current English language requirements for foreign nurses and midwives is set to be lowered under new proposals from the regulator.

The move by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is intended to ease the “significant pressure” currently on the NHS workforce.

NMC plans to change the requirements to ensure that those who are “just missing out” make the cut.

Nurses and midwives are not permitted to practise in the UK without being on the NMC register.

Under the new proposal, nurses and midwives will be required to continue to achieve a minimum overall level of 7 in the IELTS test, but in future a level 6.5 in writing would be accepted alongside a level 7 in reading, listening and speaking.

Potential registrants taking the IELTS test previously had to show they had achieved a level 7 in all four categories.

In a statement, the regulator said: "Many nurses and midwives taking the IELTS test were just missing out on achieving a level 7."

The latest figures from NHS Improvement suggest that in England alone there are almost 42,000 nursing vacancies in the NHS.

The NMC's council will consider the proposals, which intend to tackle this problem, at a meeting on 28 November.

Emma Broadbent, director of registration and revalidation at the NMC, said: "Nurses and midwives from outside the UK are a vital part of our workforce, without them the health and care system as we know it simply wouldn't exist.

"We absolutely recognise that good communication is essential to safer, better care and people can be assured that only those who can communicate to a high standard in English will be able to join our register.

"We also recognise the current workforce is under significant pressure and the number of vacancies are well documented. The change proposed would increase flexibility for highly skilled professionals coming to the UK without compromising safety."

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, said: "Good communication between nurses, midwives and patients is of paramount importance to the safety and care of patients.

"We are really pleased that the NMC continues to carefully progress reforms to the system of language testing, and believe these recommendations balance the need to protect the public with improved access for much-needed nursing talent."

Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, chief nurse at Health Education England, said: "HEE welcomes this announcement and will continue to support the NMC in ensuring the highest possible standards are achieved by the NHS workforce."

Agencies contributed to this report

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