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NMC expects to change language test for overseas applicants

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) is likely to announce the introduction of the Occupational English Test (OET) as an alternative to the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) test, it was revealed at the latest NMC council meeting today (27 September).

The consultation on the proposal, which is due to close later this week, has received 'overwhelmingly positive' feedback so far, and the council has now delegated the power to sign off the new policy to its chair, Dame Janet Finch, and chief executive and registrar Jackie Smith as soon as the consultation in concluded.

Barring any new points being raised in the final days of the consultation, a new test should be introduced by the end of the year.

Currently, nurses who want to work in the UK have to score 7 points in each section of the IELTS test.

Some nurses with a high level of English said they did not pass the test and claimed it was an unsuitable method for testing their linguistic ability.

The NMC saw a drop in the number of EU nurses registering with it after it introduced the IELTS requirement for them last year.

Nurses who gained their nursing degrees in English speaking countries, including South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, America and Canada, will not need to take any additional language test.

Director of registration and revalidation for the NMC, Emma Broadbent, said: ‘We’ve had a high level of engagement [to the consultation], the responses are overwhelmingly positive. People think it’s fair.’

The NMC consulted nursing unions, public and patient groups and recruitment agencies. Respondents said they did not see a public protection issue, but wanted to see the ‘right assurance’ levels, today’s meeting was told. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) also surveyed its members on their experiences of the IELTS test.

The same rules will also apply for nurses from the European Economic Area (EEA), if the proposals go ahead.

Dame Janet said: ‘The ability to communicate in English is fundamentally important in public protection and nothing should compromise that. However, we want to give the opportunity to nurses to work in this country if they wish to.’

A decision is expected to be ‘within weeks, not months,’ said a spokesman, and the changes could get underway soon after that.