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Claims that the NHS is ordered to axe tests for foreign nurses are misleading

July 16th, 2010

The European Commission does not oppose proportionate language testing in the UK for nurses or doctors from other EU member states and recent claims that the Commission could sue the UK in such cases are misleading. 

At the heart of the discussions is the Professional Qualifications Directive (2005/36/EC) which lays down minimum training requirements and allows the automatic recognition of professional qualifications for seven professions: doctors, general nurses, midwives, veterinary surgeons, dental surgeons, pharmacists and architects.

The directive clearly states “persons benefiting from the recognition of professional qualifications shall have a knowledge of languages necessary for practising the profession in the host member state”.

So in the case of EU qualified nurses, or doctors, coming to the UK to work they must have the necessary knowledge of English to enable them to do the job properly.  For instance, a nurse working in A&E would need a different level of English perhaps to a nurse in a post with limited direct contact with patients. 

The Directive does not forbid the competent authority making sure nurses practicing in the UK have the necessary language skills to perform their jobs properly.  For instance, medical applicants could be asked to demonstrate their linguistic ability during an interview with the appropriate UK regulator or to provide evidence of language tests carried out elsewhere.

What is not permissible is the imposition of systematic language tests as a  pre-condition for the recognition of the professional qualification, ie for every EU trained nurse to sit a language test in a UK examination centre.

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Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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