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NMC proposes lowering requirements for writing element of English test

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has proposed that the score required for the writing element of the International English Language Test System (IELTS) be lowered for overseas nurses.

Overseas nurses applying to work in the UK must currently achieve an overall level of 7 on the IELTS, with level 7 also required on each individual element of the test – writing, reading, listening and speaking.

But the NMC has put forward plans to reduce the required level of the writing element to 6.5, after consultation feedback suggested that level 7 for writing was a score that reflects ‘a knowledge of English higher than the level necessary for safe and effective practice’.

In council papers, the NMC state: ‘There is evidence that the writing aspect of the IELTS academic test does not reflect the needs of the modern working environment for nurses and midwives. The test requires essay writing and the expression of personal opinion whereas accurate writing for nurses and midwives in the modern working environment is often more about precise reporting of times and events.’

The other three elements of the test would still require a level 7, and this level will also be required overall in order for overseas nurses to pass, despite further feedback requesting that the overall level of the IELTS be reduced as well. The NMC added that they do not believe ‘that the evidence is strong enough to support a change in the overall score’.

The proposed change will only apply to the IELTS, with the Occupational English Test remaining untouched as this ‘tests language skills in a healthcare-specific context’.

The announcement was welcomed by Health Education England chief nurse Professor Lisa Bayliss-Pratt, while NMC director of registration and revalidation Emma Broadbent said that the change would ‘increase flexibility for highly skilled professionals coming to the UK without compromising safety’.