Specialist Language Courses

SLC Chair IELTS Round Table Event with NHS Trusts


Chris Moore, SLC’s Managing Director, was invited to chair a round table event this week to discuss the impact of the IELTS Test on international recruitment to the NHS.

The event was organised by one of SLC’s longstanding clients, HCL Permanent, a leading international healthcare recruitment company. It took place at International House London, Europe’s largest IELTS testing centre, and a school known globally for its English language training and teacher training services. HCL invited a number of their key NHS clients to attend, along with International House’s CEO and Head of Exams.

The discussions centred on how Trusts were feeling the effects of the IELTS English language test score of 7.0, introduced last year by the NMC as a requirement for all internationally trained nurses wishing to work in the UK. Those present all agreed that recruiting from overseas had become much more challenging and existing nursing shortages were potentially being worsened as a result. Moreover, they couldn’t understand firstly, why an academic rather than a more nursing-specific language test had been chosen and secondly, why the level had been set so high. All stated that there had been very few communication issues with foreign nurses at their hospitals prior to the test being introduced.

International House pointed out that while 7.0 was deemed ‘good’ and could therefore understand if that level might have been selected on this basis, the reality was quite different. They emphasised that Academic IELTS had been developed for a Higher Education market which meant that the test included complex grammar, academic vocabulary, listening to lectures, writing essays, and critical thinking skills. Almost all UK universities required levels lower than that set by the NMC for both undergraduate and postgraduate courses with only the likes of Oxford University requiring 7.0 across the 4 test papers.

Chris brought some examples of the nursing English language tests used elsewhere, such as the Occupational English Test (Australia, New Zealand, Singapore) and the CELBAN (Canada). The Trusts present were not aware that such alternatives existed and were pleased to see examples of accredited tests that focused on the language nurses needed in practice, such as that used in case notes or when discussing a child’s symptoms with an anxious parent. They were also pleased to see that IELTS had a General Training version, as well as the Academic, which focused more on the language required for vocational purposes.

The round table event was an opportunity for the Trusts to share their experiences and to find out more from English language training and testing professional about IELTS and what any alternatives might look like. Everyone agreed that the event had been a useful and interesting experience and had provided much food for thought. We understand HCL are following up with participants and will produce a detailed report, which we very much look forward to reading.