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UK: English level requirements for care workers could be inadequate

An elderly woman’s death at a care home in Somerset has been blamed on staff’s poor English. However, the Home Office say they have no plans to change the English level requirements for care workers and staff.

In August 2022, 91-year-old Barbara Rymell passed away after becoming trapped under a stairlift at Ashley House Care Home. Two carers on duty phoned for an ambulance, but Senior Coroner for Somerset, Samantha Marsh has stated that neither ‘were sufficiently proficient in English’ in order to explain the situation to the dispatcher. This included confusion between words such as ‘bleeding’ and ‘breathing’, and ‘alive’ and ‘alert’.

In a prevention of future deaths report, Marsh expressed concern that the current requirement of B1 English for foreign care workers is insufficient. However, a response from the Minister of State for Legal Migration and the Border, Tom Pursglove, says the responsibility ‘primarily rests with employers’ to ensure their staff speak English to an adequate standard:

‘It is the responsibility of a care provider to ensure the individuals they hire are suitable for the role. To meet this regulation, providers must ensure they have robust recruitment procedures, undertaking relevant checks, and a procedure for ongoing monitoring of staff to make sure they remain able to carry out the duties required of them.’

In order for care workers to be granted a skilled worker visa in the UK, they must pass a SELT that demonstrates B1 level English proficiency. The British Council defines B1 as:

‘Can understand straightforward factual information about common everyday or job related topics, identifying both general messages and specific details, provided speech is clearly articulated in a generally familiar accent.

‘Can reasonably fluently sustain a straightforward description of one of a variety of subjects within his/her field of interest, presenting it as a linear sequence of points.’

In his letter to Marsh, Pursglove has said that to change these requirements would negatively affect the visa processes of others, including asylum seekers, which would ‘defeat the purpose of the route as it was intended’.

The letter has been met with criticism. Diane Mayhew, a campaign manager for Care Rights UK said:

‘The coroner has stated that without tougher tests, deaths will continue, and with nearly 86,000 foreign care workers and home carers granted skilled workers visas in the last 12 months alone, that’s a significant number of lives that may be at risk as a result of foreign care workers unable to speak adequate English to explain the critical state a resident is in.’

Image courtesy of Claudia Love
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