Calls to relax English language requirements for nurses are based on ‘factually incorrect’ beliefs, according to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
Reports in the national press showed managers at Walsall Manor Hospital in the West Midlands struggling to bring nurses over from the Philippines due to their failing the International English Language Test (IELT).
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Nursing director Rachel Overfield claimed the UK’s shortfall in nursing employment would be solved ‘overnight’ if the NMC were more lenient with its IELT requirements.
‘We went overseas to the Philippines twice in the last year. We have offered posts to in excess of 100 nurses there,’ she told the Telegraph. ‘Three have arrived. The reason is we just can't get them through the IELT and the reason for that is the UK sets the standard to pass that higher than anywhere else in the world.’
However, according to the NMC, the UK is on a par with Australia, Ireland and Canada when it comes to its IELT standards for nurses. They said New Zealand demands an even higher pass level for midwives taking the test.
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Jackie Smith, the NMC chief executive, shot down calls to lower English language requirements as she believed it would impact patient safety.
‘Patient safety is always our priority,’ she said. ‘The professional code for all nurses and midwives requires them to have the necessary command of English in order to practise safely. It is essential that patients and the public are confident that nurses and midwives are able to understand them and other professional colleagues when delivering care.
‘Nurses and midwives are responsible for delivering around 80% of patient care and around 10% of our register is made up of nurses and midwives from outside the EU/EAA. We do not believe it is in the interests of public safety to lower the standard of English competence required without clear evidence.
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‘While we are aware of some concerns about our English language policy, we do not currently have any hard evidence on which to base a change.’
Data from the NMC’s register published on their website in July indicated that more nurses are now leaving the NHS than are joining up. However, the numbers of new-joiners coming from overseas in none-EU/EEA countries, such as the Philippines, had gone up.