'Changes to the NMC's English language requirements are a victory … – Nursing Times

‘Nurses have made their voice heard loud and clear’
28 September, 2022 By
Given the challenges of current times, it’s a welcome relief to have the opportunity to talk about some good news. I am writing this from the Chief Nursing Officer for England’s Summit near Aldgate. But across the capital at the Nursing and Midwifery Council in Portland Place, a very positive development has taken place today.
A proposal for changes to the regulator’s English language requirements for internationally trained applicants to the register has been presented and approved by the NMC’s council. The regulator says, via the changes, it “aims to provide a fair and reliable approach” to ensuring professionals can communicate “safely and effectively” in English.
“The move is designed to provide greater flexibility to get more people onto the UK nursing register”
In short, the move is designed to provide greater flexibility to get more people onto the UK nursing register without affecting the high standard of English language skills needed to deliver care. It follows concerns many nurses who qualified overseas have been unable to pass the NMC’s language test and achieve registration, despite working as healthcare assistants in the UK for many years.
Currently, individuals who join the register must demonstrate their English language competence through either training in English, by practising in an English-speaking role as a nurse or midwife, or by taking an approved English language test – either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Occupational English Test (OET).
While the NMC will not be changing the overall score required for language tests, it has approved technical changes that it says will make the system more flexible from next year. It will “standardise” the minimum scores it accepts when individuals need to combine two English language test scores and extend the period that applicants can combine their test scores from six to 12 months.
Second, it will enable employers to provide “supporting evidence” of English language proficiency where an applicant has trained in English in a country where it is not a majority spoken language, or where an individual has “narrowly missed” passing the English language test.
The two changes should offer a greater chance of registration to a group of staff stuck in unregistered roles in pay grades that do not match their skills, qualifications, or experience, because they could not pass the language test. Concerns have been raised for a number of years that the standard of English required to pass the tests was unnecessarily stringent and that many native English speakers would struggle to pass.
It should also be noted that the move follows an eight-week consultation that was run this year by the NMC, which received more than 34,000 responses. A record response to an NMC consultation, and a clear demonstration of the importance and interest in the issue.
As well as a victory for common sense, it is also one for two people in particular who contacted me earlier this year about their campaign for change to the requirements. Dr Agimol Pradeep, liver transplant coordinator at King’s College Hospital, and Dr Dilla Davis, nursing lecturer at Salford University, have been calling for changes for more than two years. Not only have they written in Nursing Times about the need for change, they have also spent time collecting qualitative evidence from overseas-trained nurses on the need for change.
So, well done to Agi and Dilla and those that have supported and advised them in their work to achieve the outcome agreed today. And well done to the NMC itself for recognising, as it said, that there “may be a case for change” and then testing that through the consultation and honouring the result with solid proposals.
As the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. It can only be good for the workforce, career development and, ultimately, patient care.
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