The International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is an international test of English language proficiency. On the other hand, the Occupational English Test (also known as OET) is an international English language test for the healthcare sector. It assesses the language communication skills of healthcare professionals who wish to register and practise in an English-speaking environment. This was introduced by the NMC on 1 November 2017 as an alternative to the IELTS. Below we’ve put together a timeline of the English language requirements for nurses:

18 January 2016 Nurses and midwives from EU countries have to provide evidence of their ability to communicate safely and effectively in English before they can practise in the UK. Those who cannot provide sufficient evidence will have to take an IELTS test
February 2017 HCL takes part in a round table together with several NHS Trusts and the largest IELTS testing centre in Europe, International House London, to discuss the English requirements
July 2017 HCL conducts a survey with 1,000 nurses, the results of which concluded that the language testing of foreign nurses wasn’t working. Download the IELTS report here.
October 2017 Royal College of Nursing publishes their statement and recommendations:

  • the NMC to continue to use IELTS as a means to evidence competency in English
  • the NMC to maintain its minimum IELTS score of 7.0 at least until there has been an open review of the writing module of the test, or unless robust evidence emerges that this score level does not assure public protection
  • the NMC should recognise other comparable English tests to give nurses a choice
  • the NMC to work with other regulators and organisational users of IELTS to improve the experience of test-takers, especially around providing feedback
  • the NMC to monitor how prospective registrants are faring with IELTS and publish data on marks achieved so that we can better identify future issues
  • the NMC to instate a two-year review period of its English language testing system to ensure that it is the best possible approach
  • the NMC to evaluate the potential for a nursing-specific English test
1 November 2017 Nurses and midwives who want to work in the UK can take the OET exam
December 2017 HCL’s survey among EU nurses finds out IELTS is a bigger problem than Brexit. Read more