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Rise in overseas nurse applications after language test changes

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has made alternative options available for nurses and midwives trained outside the UK to demonstrate their knowledge of the English language.

Initial indications suggest the changes have led to an increase in applications from those in nursing jobs and midwives trained overseas, and come as numbers of applicants from within the European Union for NHS posts continue to fall following the Brexit vote.

Alternative language test

The rule changes came into effect on November 1 when the NMC said it would accept the Occupational English Test (OET) in addition to the International English Language Test System (IELTS), as proof of a nurse or midwife’s English language competence. However, it said that while this provides an alternative way for nurses and midwives to demonstrate their English language capability, applicants will still be required to meet the NMC’s existing English language standards.

Nurses and midwives who have qualified outside EU/EEA will now also be able to demonstrate their English language capability by providing evidence that they have: undertaken a pre-registration nursing or midwifery qualification taught and examined in English; and registered and practised for a minimum of one year in a country where English is the first and native language, and a successful pass in an English language test was required for registration.

Occupational context

The NMC had previously received complaints from some applicants that the current tests were challenging for foreign nurses as they did not provide them with “occupational context”.

The NMC suggests the alternative forms of evidence will bring the options available for nurses and midwives trained outside the EU/EEA more closely in line with evidence that we accept for those trained in the EU/EEA.

With nurses and midwives trained outside the UK making up around 15% of those on the NMC register, NMC Chief Executive and Registrar Jackie Smith said they are “vital to the delivery of health and care services across the UK.

“By accepting alternative forms of evidence we are increasing the options available for nurses and midwives to demonstrate they have the necessary command of English to practise safely and effectively, without compromising patient safety,” she added. This will boost numbers across nursing, including mental health nursing jobs and community nursing jobs.

New test rules proving popular

The announcement represents the first stage of the NMC’s review of its English language requirements. It will continue to evaluate other potential types of evidence, develop additional support for applicants and explore the evidence base for the IELTS test. Within a month of the changes coming into play, the NMC observed that a “significant number” of nurses from abroad had applied to work in the UK.

Ms Smith told MPs on the Commons’ health select committee that there were “early indications” the alternative English language test, plus new rules that mean nurses who have studied or practised in English no longer need to take a test, were proving popular.
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