While Brexit has made all the headlines this year, for EU nurses looking to work in the UK, IELTS testing has also been a major topic of conversation.

The NMC’s move to accept OET exams was positive news – but for now, the difficulty of attaining the magic IELTS Level 7.0 remains a thorn in the side of overseas nurses. And in spite of the insistence by the mainstream media that Brexit is scaring them away, our survey suggests that IELTS is actually the bigger problem.

More than a third say IELTS is the ‘biggest barrier’

We surveyed EU nurses who we’ve placed in roles over the last few years, hoping to get a sense of what their biggest struggles have been – and if they’ve left the UK, what had triggered the move.

More than 35% of respondents, whether they’ve stayed in the UK or not, specifically referenced the IELTS test as their number one problem. Brexit, by contrast, was mentioned by less than 15% of respondents. Language problems, in general, were also mentioned by many of the nurses surveyed.

What’s notable from this data is that the nurses in question are either working in the UK now or have been recently. This is an audience of people who have actually achieved the required IELTS score to work in the UK. So arguably, you might expect them to be a little less frustrated by the IELTS process, given that they’ve managed to negotiate it successfully.

Is Brexit a red herring?

A small number of respondents have actually left the UK recently. But while a few mentioned IELTS as a problem for incoming EU nurses, none of them suggested Brexit was the reason they’d left.

From what we’ve heard in the news, it would seem unthinkable that EU nurses would leave the UK for any other reason than Brexit. In an Independent piece in November, the title of the article links the high number of nurses who have left the UK over the last year to Brexit. But read through the article, and you’ll find no clear evidence that Brexit was the cause of their departure.

Similarly, the theme of Brexit looms large in this BBC article looking at the fact that the number of EU nurses registering in the UK had dropped since the EU Referendum. Once again, trends and anecdotes are referred to, but no evidence is given to justify the connection.

The recruitment of EU nurses is a nuanced issue. So let’s give it the attention it deserves

Brexit is on everyone’s radar. It would be foolish to suggest that it isn’t a factor in both retaining and attracting overseas nurses. But, as we’ve proven time and time again with our own findings, the difficulty of the IELTS test is currently a more definitively provable barrier for EU nurses.

So focusing the issue entirely on Brexit is, arguably, just as foolish as ignoring it. We have to listen to EU nurses more attentively, understand their experiences more precisely, and appreciate that our recruitment issues are far more nuanced than is too often presented in the mainstream media.

And besides, we could all do with a break from hearing about Brexit now and again.

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