November 21, 2017

Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) announces a sharp increase in the number of overseas Nurse applicants following language test changes

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Following a review by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), Nurses from outside the UK can now choose whether to take the IELTS exam or the Occupational English Test, which is already in use in New Zealand and Australia. The NMC will also provide additional flexibility by increasing the number of times a Nurse or Midwife can sit a key component of the test they need to pass in order to practise in the UK. Additionally, a Nurse or Midwife will not need to take the test if they have worked for at least a year in a country where English is the first language. These policy changes are suspected to have contributed to a large increase in applicants to the Nursing and Midwifery Council since November.

The difficulties with recruiting nurses from overseas

These changes are in response to claims from health care providers and recruitment agencies, that the high pass levels for the existing International English Language Testing exam are contributing to further recruitment difficulties.

Jackie Smith the Chief Executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) recently told MPs, “We wouldn’t have proposed these changes if we didn’t think it would make a difference… Early indications are that a significant number have registered to take an alternative test or provide evidence of studying or practising in English.”

Factors contributing to Nurse recruitment difficulties | IELTS and Brexit

Since 2007 to November 1st 2017, applicants from countries outside the EU, even those from countries where English is the first language, had to pass the IELTS exam. Since 2016, Nurses and Midwives from countries within the EU have been required to demonstrate English language skills, either by passing the IELTS exam or having trained or previously practised in English.

Earlier this year, NMC figures showed a 96% drop in the number of EU nurses joining the register every month compared with the year before. Last July, 1,304 EU nurses came to work in the UK; this fell to just 46 in April 2017, NMC statistics show. These figures led to warnings that the health service could be headed for the worst nursing crisis in 20 years. Some attributed this decline to the difficulty of the IELTS testing requirements while others claimed Brexit was deterring Nurses from coming to work in the UK. It still remains to be determined which factor is having the greatest effect on the number of applicants.

Registering with the Nursing and Midwifery Council

The NMC established last month that it would continue to explore whether other tests, in addition to the IELTS and OET, could be used to assess English language in the future. The NMC is also in discussions regarding whether to lower the pass score for the writing component of the IELTS. Jackie explains the reasoning behind these changes:

We want to ensure that all nurses and midwives with the right skills and knowledge can join our register regardless of where they were trained.

Coming to work in a new country can be daunting and we want to make it is as straightforward as possible for nurses and midwives to demonstrate that they can meet the standards required to work in the UK.

We have listened carefully to feedback from our stakeholders and introduced changes which will help to streamline the process for those coming from overseas allowing them to focus on what matters most – sitting their exams."

A wider review of all parts of the process for allowing overseas Nurses into the register is also being carried out by the NMC, looking at language testing, competency checks, the cost and location of testing.

The NMC is also conducting a wider review into all parts of the application process for overseas applications looking at expenses, language testing and competency checks.

For more information on overseas recruitment and for the latest updates, contact our recruitment team.

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