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NMC considers change to health-focused language testing

Changes to English language testing for nurses and midwives will be further investigated by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC), it has been revealed.

In the organisation’s latest board papers, though it stated that the current system of testing, called the International English Language Test System (IELTS) was still fit for purpose, the NMC said that other systems were being considered.

It follows the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) warning last year that a lack of clinical language tests for doctors in the EU was ‘putting patient safety at risk’. And in June last year, the NMC also said that it was to amend the IELTS requirements for nurses and midwives coming on to the register from overseas and within the European Economic Area. 

The regulator noted that some stakeholders have suggested that a language test which incorporates the clinical and social skills needed by nurses and midwives would be more appropriate than IELTS.

In light of this, the NMC said two options to consider are: to either develop an entirely new test for workers or to adapt an existing language test focused around healthcare.

Other tests which assess the clinical and social aspects of language skills include the Occupational English Test (OET) that is recognised in over 20 regulatory bodies in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. This test assesses the language proficiency of a range of health care professionals including nurses and midwives as well as doctors and pharmacists.

Another test being considered is the Canadian English Language Assessment for Nurses (CELBAN) which is developed solely for nurses, but could also be used with midwives.

It was also noted that stakeholder feedback shows that there is general support for the overall level being IELTS set at 7.0, but with flexibility in individual domain scores. It added that it may undertake further research to explore why the Writing domain consistently scores lower and what the impact of lowering it to 6.5 would be.

The report stated: “The top two non-EEA country sources for registrants with the NMC in 2015–2016 were the Philippines (63.8% of non-EEA) and India (23.3%). The British Council has confirmed to us that a standard of 6.5 for Writing, a requirement for level 7.0 in other domains and an overall score of 7.0 would mean that ‘many’ more candidates from these two countries would achieve our standard.”

The NMC added it will further explore the Writing element of IELTS and the evidence base for any change.

In conclusion, the report recommended that the council develop improved signposting and support from the NMC in relation to preparation for the IELTS test, including gathering and sharing best practice from employers, and exploring a new strategic solution considering in particular the OET.

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Elmon M Paul   06/07/2017 at 06:34

At first, opting OET or other rest would be a bizarre idea at the moment in my opinion. This is clearly due to the fact that people has to study such courses and have pass it. Which is a painstakingly slow process. However, the most suitable panacea is that reducing the IELTS score of writting module from 7 to 6.5 perhaps seems to be an ideal solution. I think still IELTS is comprehensive exam. The only barrier we do have is writting score. (7).

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