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July 2017

Nurses ‘should understand local accents’

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Nurses’ conversation skills and familiarity with local accents are just as important as knowledge of standard English, according to a nurse who is calling for a reduction in the language level required for overseas nurses in the UK.

‘If you work in a care home in Aberdeen, “Oxford grammar” won’t help you – you need to understand local accents,’ Febin Cyriac told the Gazette.

Mr Cyriac is running a petition calling on the UK’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) to rethink its English language requirements for foreign nurses. The petition has been signed by more than 6,000 people in the past month, bringing the total to 11,000 signatures at the time to going to press.

Mr Cyriac, originally from India and now living in Aberdeen, said he launched the petition after he saw experienced nurses being unable to practise because the English standard was too high for them.

‘I had some friends with ten, fifteen years’ experience in hospitals, and they had to work as carers because they couldn’t get the required Ielts grade,’ he said.

Current regulations require foreign nurses to achieve a band 7 score in all four skills tested in the Academic Ielts. According to official statistics, native speakers average 6.3 on the Ielts writing task (see Gazette June 2017). The petition asks for the required Ielts score to be lowered to 6.5, and for General Ielts to be used instead of the academic version.

‘We still need the test,’ Mr Cyriac told the Gazette. ‘Communication is important, so nurses still need to be tested. But a score of 7 is too high.’ Nurses who have studied in UK universities or have more than three years’ experience in the UK should also be exempt, he added.

Back when he started the petition in 2014, EU nurses were exempt from the English language requirement. After it was extended to cover them in January 2016, the NMC saw a 96 per cent drop in registrations from EU staff in the space of a year.

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Febin Cyriac

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