English language test rules for overseas nurses and midwives could be relaxed this week, it has been reported, after they were criticised for being too stringent.
At present, people moving to the UK who wish to register as a nurse or midwife must achieve at least a level 7 in the four elements of the International English Language Testing System: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
However, the Observer reported yesterday that, on Wednesday, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) will consider other options for assessing English language skills.
In particular, those who have obtained a recent qualification that was taught in English and have worked for at least two years in a country where English is the native language would qualify. If approved, the changes could come into force as early as next month.
The newspaper reported in June that the current tests were so rigorous that even those who were native English speakers were failing, with one recruitment agency reporting an average mark for English speakers it put forward of just 6.3 in writing and 6.7 in reading.
"We are pleased to see that the NMC is reviewing the way in which nurses can show they meet the required English language standards,” Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told People Management. “We have been working with the NMC on this issue and, ultimately, this is about patient safety. Employers and the NMC want to make sure nurses can communicate vital clinical information clearly and effectively, but there may be other ways for them to effectively demonstrate that."
The NMC has already relaxed the rules to make the tests more flexible. Last June, the organisation announced that applicants would be able to take the exams in two sittings within six months of each other. Provided an individual achieved at least a 6.5 in all disciplines in both sittings, they would be awarded the equivalent of four level 7s.
Although these alterations were announced just days after the Brexit vote, the NMC said the changes had been in the pipeline for some time and were not related to the referendum result.
However, figures from other sources have suggested that staff shortages have become particularly acute since the referendum. Research from charity The Health Foundation, published in June, revealed there had been a 96 per cent drop in nurses from the EU registering to practise in the UK, with 1,304 applications received in July last year compared with only 46 this April.
The nursing sector has also recently locked horns with the government over pay. Earlier this month, the government effectively announced it would lift the 1 per cent public sector pay cap, increasing pay for police by 1 per cent plus a 1 per cent bonus and for prison officers by 1.7 per cent. It has also said it would take a more flexible approach when setting public sector pay for other workers when the time comes to review their pay.
However, some unions have argued that the pay rises do not go far enough. “If the government gives nurses the same deal as the police, it would still be a real-terms pay cut,” said Janet Davies, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, shortly after the police pay deal was announced.
The NMC had not responded to People Management’s request for comment on the Observer article at the time of writing.