New language requirements come into force for European trained nurses and midwives

Language competency requirements for nurses and midwives is the final piece of the regulatory jig-saw. Doctors have been subject to language proficiency since 2014 when the General Medical Council made a number of changes to the language requirements for doctors.

From 18 January 2016 nurses and midwives from the European Economic Area wishing to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council will need to complete an English language competency assessment. The changes require applicants to provide sufficient evidence of language competency including having trained or worked in an English speaking country. If they are unable to do so, applicants from the EU will be required to undertake an English language assessment.

In addition, the legislation will give the NMC new powers to take fitness to practise proceedings in cases where registered healthcare professionals’ knowledge of the English language pose a serious risk to patient safety.

Responsibility for ensuring compliance with language checks does remain with NHS organisations – the new language controls by regulators will not replace checks by employers. NHS Employers’ good practice guide to language competency for employers outlines the responsibilities that NHS organisations have in ensuring staff have the required level of linguistic skills to undertake their role effectively and deliver safe care to patients. 

How the NMC’s new rules will play out in practice remains to be seen. The NMC will now need to work with employers to develop workable procedures that implement the new rules on language checks. 

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