The Nursing and Midwifery Council is to propose slightly easing the requirements for overseas nurses and midwives taking the International English Language Test System (IELTS).
The move is the latest by the regulator in response to concerns that its language testing regiment was unnecessarily difficult and delaying overseas nurses from joining the register. “The change proposed would increase flexibility for highly skilled professionals coming to the UK without compromising safety”
Under the latest proposal, nurses and midwives will still be required to continue to achieve a minimum overall level of 7 in the IELTS test. However, in future, a level 6.5 in writing would be accepted alongside a level 7 in reading, listening and speaking.
The NMC said it had consulted widely with stakeholders and heard that, despite being able to communicate to a high level in English, many nurses and midwives taking the IELTS test were just missing out on achieving a level 7. This proposed change is one of a number of improvements the NMC is making to its overseas processes, as part of its “extensive review of international registration”, said the regulator.
The NMC’s council will consider the proposals on changing the IELTS requirements at its meeting on 28 November 2018. Previously, the NMC had bowed to similar pressure and, since this time last year, allowed the Occupational English Test to start being used as an alternative to IELTS.
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,” she said.
“We also recognise the current workforce is under significant pressure and the number of vacancies are well documented,” said Broadbent. She added: “The change proposed would increase flexibility for highly skilled professionals coming to the UK without compromising safety.”
The proposed change has already been welcomed by organisations linked to the health service workforce. Danny Mortimer, chief executive of representative body 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,” he said. The move was also backed by Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, chief nurse at Health Education England, the government arms’-length body responsible for NHS workforce planning and training.
She said her organisation was “working closely” with the NMC to ensure international nursing graduates wanting to work in the NHS can “provide the safest, highest quality healthcare”. “HEE welcomes this announcement and will continue to support the NMC in ensuring the highest possible standards are achieved by the NHS workforce,” she said.
Amber Jabbal, head of policy at NHS Providers,said: “We welcome the findings and the proposed changes to the IELTS set out today by the NMC. “Trusts have been concerned that the writing element of English language testing for nurses has been a barrier to securing the right level of the talented international nursing workforce that the NHS needs,” she said.
“Trusts will therefore welcome the proposal to adjust the standards threshold to 6.5 for writing while retaining the requirement for an average of 7 across all four testing areas – writing, reading, speaking and listening – to ensure we maintain standards,” said Ms Jabbal. She added: “It is right that the NMC has reviewed the system and set out these proposals to ensure it remains fit for purpose.”