New regulations will ensure that Eurozone nurses and midwives travelling to Britain will need to prove that they are fluent in the English language.
Previously such checks have only been applicable to nurses from countries outside of the European Union.
This new initiative means that any nurses who are unable to show that they possess sufficient language skills will need to have an English language assessment.
The decision has been made by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and is intended to ensure that the nursing profession runs parallel with that of doctors.
Although language problems can frequently be a difficulty in the NHS, the issue related to doctors was particularly highlighted by a lethal mistake made in 2008.
At that time, Dr Daniel Ubani, a German doctor carrying out an out-of-hours shift, gave a lethal dose of a painkiller to patient David Gray.
Because Ubani was a German citizen, he was able to register as a doctor and practice medicine in the UK without passing a formal language test at that time.
Commenting on the new regulations, Nursing and Midwifery Council Chief Executive Jackie Smith was adamant that the decision made to protect the nursing profession was a sound one.
“From now on all nurses and midwives applying to join the register from outside the UK, including the EU, will have to demonstrate they can communicate effectively to a high standard of English. The ability to communicate effectively with patients is fundamental to patient safety and a principle that is central to our code.”
The council has announced that the new test will assess listening, reading, writing and speaking fluency, in order to ensure that every practising nurse and midwife possesses a full palette of language skills.
And if an allegation is made that a nurse or midwife already working in the UK does not possess the necessary English language skills, they could be investigated under fitness to practise rules.
To put this issue into perspective, the Nursing and Midwifery Council Currently has in the region of 700,000 registered nurses and midwives on its books.
With the Department of Health having noted that there is a shortage of nurses available in the NHS, it is expected that the health service will increasingly have to recruit from abroad.
It must also be said that this issue is being heightened and exacerbated by the government’s recent decision to scrap bursaries for nurses.
The financial reality for many young persons wishing to enter the nursing and midwifery professions is that the financial sums may no longer add up.
Katherine Murphy of The Patients Association also welcomed the move.
“Nurses from other countries make an extremely important contribution to healthcare in the UK. However, we hear from patients on our National Helpline that there can be real issues with some overseas health professionals; including problems with communication and a lack of understanding of processes and procedures. The Patients Association calls on all Trusts to ensure that their staff meet these new requirements, and that all overseas nurses have the necessary support and training to be able to offer patients safe and effective care.”