Easier language tests for foreign nurses may be introduced to overcome the NHS’ staffing shortage crisis

By Alexandra Thompson/dailymail.co.uk
Easier language tests may be given to foreign nurses as hospital managers warn too many are being turned away on their basis of their English.

Senior managers and recruitment agencies are campaigning for regulators to reduce the pass rate.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), which regulates more than 680,000 nurses and midwives, is gathering information concerning whether the tests should be changed, which will be discussed at a board meeting later this week.

Yet, some are concerned compromising standards could hinder patient safety.

One in 10 NHS nursing positions is unfilled, with 13 per cent of the workforce coming from overseas, according to statistics from the Institute of Employment Studies published last year.
A petition to reduce the pass rate from seven to 6.5, out of a possible nine, has been signed by more than 3,600 nurses, Nursing Times reports.

The importance of fluency in English was exposed by the 2008 death of David Gray, 70, at the hands of German GP Daniel Ubani, who had flown in to do his first locum shift.

He had not faced any checks on his competence or ability to speak English and gave the pensioner from Cambridgeshire ten times the safe dose of diamorphine.

The laws have since been tightened, but repeated cases have shown mistakes still happen.

Febin Cyriac, the managing partner of a UK healthcare recruitment firm, which targets nurses from overseas, started the campaign.

He told MailOnline: ‘Many Indian, Filipino or Middle Eastern nurses come to the UK to do their masters in nursing.

‘They may have 15 to 20 years of experience of nursing in their native country, but they can’t work as a nurse in this country because of their language standards.

‘The nurse’s language capacity is the same, but every test attempt produces a different score. It doesn’t mean they can’t speak English.

‘We’re turning away good candidates.’

NHS trust senior managers have also called on the regulator to lower the pass rate.

Jackie Daniel, chief executive of University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation trust, has written to the head of the NMC asking for the system to be reviewed.

This comes after regulators rejected 102 out of 104 nurses from the trust based on their language skills.

Ms Daniel argued the NHS is too short staffed to afford losing overseas nurses to countries such as the United States and Canada, which accept a 6.5 pass rate.

Last month a report by the healthcare staffing agency HCL Workforce Solutions said the current language requirements were ‘unjustified’.

Across a sample of 14 NHS trusts, around 50 per cent of its approximate 2,000 nurses have either dropped out or been removed since November 2014 due to failed tests, the report stated.

Delays and repeat tests mean it is taking one year on average between recruitment and deployment, the report said.

Yet, Joyce Robins from Patient Concern, said: ‘The notion of dropping the standards in this way fills me with trepidation – it is really worrying,’ The Telegraph reported.

‘Communication is such an important part of healthcare, and it is already often where things go wrong. I don’t think we can afford to take risks like this.’

Stephanie Aiken, deputy director of nursing at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘Whilst we welcome the review of the current requirements, clear communication is vital in nursing and so the NMC must make sure tests remain rigorous.

‘Our health services are reliant on overseas nurses and we need to make sure they are all able to deliver the right standard of care.

‘We will not accept any quick fixes designed to make up for the shortage of nurses in the UK.

‘Lowering language requirements is not the answer – we need better pay and better working conditions if we are to retain valuable staff and attract more people into the profession.

‘As we leave the EU, the Government needs to focus on building a sustainable, home-grown workforce if it is to avoid the staffing crisis getting even worse.’

An NMC spokesperson said: ‘Patient safety is always our first priority and as such, the code requires all nurses and midwives to have the necessary command of English in order to practice safely and effectively.

‘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.

‘However, as a responsible regulator that continually looks at the suitability of all the standards we set, we have committed to looking at this standard and gathering further evidence over the coming months.’

Language tests for overseas nurses were introduced in 2007.

Until last year, those who came to the UK from the EU were not required to sit them.
Last year also saw the rules relax somewhat as nurses and midwives from abroad were able to take a set of language tests in two sittings, with the best score being carried forward to their final grade.

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