All overseas nurses and midwives will be assessed on their language skills, under new legislation proposed by a report from the DH.
The report, Language controls for nurses, midwives, dentists, dental care professionals, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, states that nurses and midwives from EU countries should be tested on their ability to speak English to the required standard. Currently, the law allows language testing for non-EU staff, but not for those who have come from the EU.
The change in legislation outlined in the report will allow the NMC to request evidence of a European applicant's knowledge of the English language prior to registration. Language skills will also be included as part of the NMC's fitness to practice criteria for the first time. The organisation will also be required to publish guidance on what evidence the applicant will have to provide to demonstrate their fluency in English.
Louise Silverton, director of midwifery at the RCM, said: 'Public safety must be the driving force behind this and as such, these proposals make a lot of sense. They will help to ensure that midwives who work in the UK have the level of competence in reading, writing and speaking English needed to ensure good communication with the people they care for.'
Peter Carter, chief executive of the RCN said: 'The health service relies on nurses from overseas, who have come to the UK to provide good care for patients since the NHS was founded. The RCN has been calling for this change as it is vital that language skills can be tested before people start caring for patients. Good communication skills are at the heart of good nursing.'
However, despite the positive reaction to the legislative change, concerns over the impact of the language checks on the NMC's budget. Ms Silverton added: 'We do have concerns about where the cost of this additional responsibility for the NMC will be met. We are concerned that this extra cost will be demanded from midwives, who have already faced a 20 per cent increase in the cost of registering to practice in the UK.'
The legislative change is expected to be voted on before the end of the current parliament in May.