Evidence of ‘widespread fraudulent activity’ has been found at a testing site in Nigeria used by internationally educated nurses before joining the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register.
The NMC has today confirmed that an investigation into a computer-based testing (CBT) site in Ibadan has suggested that some nursing or midwifery professionals may have ‘fraudulently obtained’ their CBT.
Internationally educated professionals must take a two-part test of competence before joining the UK register, including the CBT, usually sat in their home country, and a practical test in the UK.
The nursing regulator’s CBT provider Pearson VUE had first alerted the NMC to ‘unusual’ data relating to tests taken at the Yunnik Technologies testing site in Ibadan in May.
A subsequent investigation was launched around those professionals who had used the testing site to gain entry onto the NMC register, as well as those in the application process.
In an update this afternoon, the NMC confirmed that of the 515 professionals on the register, 48 had achieved their CBT score in a time the regulator believes ‘is more likely than not to indicate that they obtained their result fraudulently’.
‘We will refer each of these cases to an independent panel, called an investigating committee, to decide whether they gained fraudulent entry to the register,’ the NMC said in a statement.
The NMC said there was ‘evidence of widespread fraudulent activity at the Yunnik centre, where we suspect some people fraudulently obtained their CBT, probably by use of a proxy tester, where someone takes the test on behalf of someone else’.
It therefore said it ‘cannot have confidence in any CBT result from this test centre’ and so it would be treating all CBTs obtained at the Yunnik site as ‘invalid’.
It added that it was currently ‘not taking forward allegations of fraud for the remaining 467 professionals on the register who took their CBT at Yunnik’ but that they would ‘need to resit the test successfully to remain on our register’.
‘They will be offered three opportunities to do this, in line with our existing policy,’ the NMC noted.
‘This will enable them to evidence to any employer that they hold a CBT result about which there can be no doubt.’
Meanwhile, of the 1,440 people who had used the test site and were at the application stage of their entry to the UK register, there were 669 individuals of whom the NMC also believed passed their test in a time that was, more likely than not, done so fraudulently.
‘They will need to obtain a new CBT result to complete their application, which will then be passed to an assistant registrar to consider if they meet our character requirements for safe and effective practice,’ the NMC said.
‘If an assistant registrar has concerns that someone has acted fraudulently or dishonestly, they may refuse the application.
‘Those individuals will have the opportunity to provide the assistant registrar with any written information about the circumstances in which they took their CBT at Yunnik, plus any other mitigating factors, character references or other information they wish to give.’
It added that based on current evidence, it was ‘not considering fraud/dishonesty for the remaining 771 applicants’.
‘Providing that they resit the CBT successfully, and there are no concerns with other aspects of their application, their application can continue in the normal way towards registration,’ the NMC said.
Individuals will have up to three retake attempts, which will be free of charge, with Pearson VUE covering the exam fees.
The nursing regulator said that if individuals decline to retake the CBT, or fail three retake attempts, it would ‘need to take further action on the basis that their entry to the register is incorrect’.
‘This would include referring their case to a panel of our investigating committee,’ said the NMC.
‘If the investigating committee decide that without a valid CBT, the entry on the register is incorrect, they may direct us to remove the individual from our register.’
And if an applicant does not retake or fails three resits, the NMC will close their application and they will not be able to join the UK register.
Professionals and applicants affected will receive correspondence from the nursing regulator to explain the NMC’s findings and what this means for them.
The nursing regulator highlighted the need to protect against racism and discrimination during the current situation.
‘We know employers will be thinking of the potential for unfair and discriminatory behaviour towards individuals affected by the issues at Yunnik, as well as other internationally educated or ethnically diverse colleagues,’ it said.
‘That’s why we’re asking employers to be proactive and take any further steps they can to eradicate any unfair, racist or discriminatory behaviour from their workplaces.
‘Each individual must continue to be treated with the dignity they have a right to expect at all times, by their employers, fellow professionals and people who use services.’
Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC chief executive and registrar, said: ‘We understand this continues to be a distressing time for people facing uncertainty about their application or place on our register.
‘We’re committed to managing these concerns in the safest and fairest way we can.
‘It’s been essential to look carefully at all the data and other information presented to us before deciding on the right and proportionate approach for everyone.’
Ms Sutcliffe highlighted the ‘incredibly important contribution’ that internationally educated nurses and midwives make.
‘Our paramount concern remains to protect the public by maintaining the integrity of the register for nursing and midwifery professionals practising in the UK,’ she added.
‘That’s why we’ve responded to this situation with such painstaking care and consideration.
‘We’ve kept employers and key partners, including trade unions and other support groups, updated while we’ve worked through this, encouraging them to support individuals affected and proactively tackle any incidents of racism or discrimination that may have arisen.
‘We’ll continue that dialogue while we move forward with this regulatory action, and I’m grateful for their collaboration and understanding.’
Meanwhile, Matthew Poyiadgi, vice president EMEA and Asia, Pearson VUE, said the organisation ‘fully supports the NMC in the actions taken to uphold the integrity’ of the test of competency (TOC) taken by nurses from overseas.
‘It is of the utmost importance that high-stakes examinations such as the TOC ensure trust both in the outcome and in the candidate who has achieved the certification,’ he added.
‘For all testing companies, threats to test integrity are rapidly evolving and attempted proxy testing is an unfortunate, periodic occurrence.
‘We conduct regular security checks at all our testing sites and employ cutting-edge technologies to detect any type of fraudulent activity.’