The UK has a nursing shortage, so why are we stopping nurses who trained overseas from joining our NHS?
Dr Dilla Davis, Lecturer and Researcher in Nursing at the University of Salford, explains how her research is shining a light on the nurses excluded from working in the role they are trained for.
“The catastrophe of the pandemic has highlighted that we have a global shortage of nurses. Here in the UK, we have a staffing crisis (in January 2021, a survey by Nursing Times indicated that 80% of nurses feel that patient safety is affected by staff shortages) and yet there are a significant number of qualified, overseas educated nurses living here who are currently unable to practise.
“Our research (Davis and Pradeep 2021) unearthed 857 people in this situation, who have all been living in England for more than 10 years. Seventeen of them are educated to master’s level.
“These people are equipped with the skills and knowledge of a qualified nurse, skills which our NHS desperately needs, but they are stuck in lower paid roles because unnecessarily difficult language tests are preventing them from taking up nursing roles in the UK. Many are working for a decreased wage as healthcare assistants, not making the most of their skills, ability, or training.
“The main issue for many is that the current system asks overseas nurses to demonstrate advanced language skills in order to practise in the UK. The standard they are asked to reach is far beyond that required of their UK-born counterparts.
“These language tests do not measure a nurse’s compassion, empathy or cultural sensitivities; the focus is on the consistent use of grammar, the syntax, the morphology, the semantics.
“The NMC takes these language test scores as a measure of how effectively an overseas nurse can communicate. Yet the ability of a newly qualified nurse trained in the UK is assessed completely differently, through the opinion of their lecturers and clinical assessors. We do not test the language proficiency of newly qualified nurses (UK applicants) who have gained entry to the register.
“Accepting alternative proof of language and communication skills from overseas nurses, such as a pass in the NMC’s Test of Competences, as well as recommendations and references from employers who have seen these skills in action, would potentially allow thousands more nurses to be added to the register.
“Recruiting more nurses is not only vital for patient safety, but it is the right and fair thing for those overseas nurses who are currently excluded from their profession despite having the skills and experience needed.
“We have also approached the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) with these concerns. Our question is whether these regulatory barriers that are put before our overseas educated nurses, many of whom are now British citizens – are they genuinely fair and proportionate?”
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