Fewer than one in ten NHS hospitals check whether nurses can adequately speak English before letting them work on wards, according to Freedom of Information requests obtained by the Daily Mail.
The newspaper asked all 168 hospital trusts in England what tests they carried out on the language abilities of nurses before hiring them.
Only one in 10 NHS hospitals test the language skills of foreign nurses
Of 104 that replied, only 7 said they said their own test or asked to see proof that nurses had passed some form of English exam. A further 9 said that they set general literacy tests for all candidates, not just those coming from overseas.
But many of the remaining trusts think that the NMC (Nursing and Midwifery Council) will have already checked the language skills of the nurses, so do not feel the need to set their own tests.
However, due to strict anti-discrimination rules imposed by Brussels, it is illegal for the NMC to check the English Language skills of nurses trained in EU countries.
Whilst foreign nurses coming to work in England from outside the EU have to undergo rigorous English exams before they can join the register, the NMC cannot test nurses from within the EU.
The Department of Health and the Royal College of Nursing told NHS hospitals that instead it is their responsibility to make adequate checks, but it seems that many of them are relying on the NMC.
Howard Catton, head of policy at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘There needs to be a rigorous recruitment and selection process in place. This would include looking at background checks on CVs, face-to-face interviews and if necessary separate English tests.'
‘Just because somebody has general language competence we can’t assume they have the specialist terminology needed to explain somebody’s condition or prescribing medication.’
Lord Winston recently warned that the poor language skills of Eastern European nurses were compromising patient safety in the NHS.
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