Poorly-trained foreign nurses will be allowed to work in Britain after completing only two days of role playing and multiple choice tests. The short course replaces the rigorous assessments and exams currently undertaken by those failing to meet NHS standards. To work on wards, nurses are likely to need to show only their skills on dummies, with no requirement to speak good English.
The shake-up is being imposed by the European Union, which says tests on foreign workers go against its freedom of movement laws. Senior health officials fear the multiple choice assessments, which will begin in April, will be unrealistic and too easy.
Under the existing rules, any EU nurse whose training is deemed substandard must go on an intensive adaptation programme lasting up to six months before they can work in UK hospitals. The courses, which can cost up to £1,500, are run by universities and consist of theory tests, written coursework and practical exams in wards or nursing homes. Although not directly assessed on their English, candidates would struggle to pass without good language skills. The regime is so strict that only a quarter of the 8,000 EU nurses who apply to work in the UK every year see the process through. Most are put off by the cost and difficulty of making the grade.
Those not up to scratch largely come from states relatively new to the EU such as Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Estonia and Latvia. The new tests are being drawn up by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. It is understood they will involve multiple choice, role plays and demonstrations on dummy patients – and may last just two days.
Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association, said: ‘These multiple choice tests will be far too simple.
‘This is giving patient safety no priority. How can nurses’ ability to carry out drug calculations and all the other skills required on the ward be assessed in a multiple choice test? It’s disgraceful that this is allowed to happen.’
John Lister, director of campaign group London Health Emergency, said: ‘This is a retrograde step and this is something the NMC should be challenging in court.’ The council is being forced to take action after being threatened with lawsuits by Bulgarian nurses who claimed it was too difficult to register to work in Britain.
The EU has also blocked rigorous checks on foreign GPs who want to work here. This had disastrous results in 2008 when engineer David Gray died at the hands of German locum Daniel Ubani, who gave him ten times the normal dose of diamorphine.
Mr Gray’s son Stuart, who is a GP in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, said: ‘It’s a ludicrous system. The NHS is a very different to other countries’ health systems and people need training before they can practise here.’
Nurses from countries outside the EU will still face stringent tests.
The NHS relies on foreign nurses and in the past decade more than 90,000 have registered to work in the UK, mainly from the Philippines, Australia, India and South Africa.
Relaxing the entry requirements for EU nurses is likely to see an influx of nurses who had felt it too much trouble to work in Britain.
A spokesman for the Nursing and Midwifery Council said: ‘The test will ensure that EU-trained nurses are able to meet the same standards that we require of nurses who trained in the UK.’ A Department of Health spokesman said foreign healthcare professionals would need to pass robust language and competency tests.