90% of hospitals fail to check on nurses' English before letting them work on wardsLanguage problems only come to light when patients' requests are not understood
Fewer than one in ten hospitals check whether nurses from Europe can adequately speak English before letting them work on wards, it has emerged.
Language problems often only come to light when patients find that their requests for more pain relief or different food are not understood, according to an NHS watchdog.
Many hospital chiefs are totally unaware that due to strict anti-discrimination rules imposed by Brussels, it is illegal for the Nursing and Midwifery Council regulator to check the English language skills of nurses trained in EU countries.
Hospital chiefs are unaware that it is illegal for regulators to check the English language skills of nurses trained in EU countries
The Department of Health and the Royal College of Nursing have told hospitals it is their responsibility to make adequate checks but the guidance is not always passed on to managers in charge of recruitment.
Foreign nurses coming to work in England from outside the EU have to undergo rigorous English exams that last up to five hours before they can join the NMC register.
But fewer than one in ten NHS trusts are bothering to set their own tests or demand to see proof that nurses have reached an appropriate standard of English, according to Freedom of Information requests obtained by the Daily Mail.
The resulting problems were outlined by Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the Patients Association. She said: ‘We get a lot of calls from relatives saying elderly patients are trying to ask for more pain relief or that they want something different to eat and the message just isn’t getting across.
‘Often these patients who are physically very weak just give up. It’s abysmal, it’s appalling that the NMC’s hands are tied but hospitals should be doing more.’
Jan Middleton nearly had to call 999 and summon medics to her ward because nurses could not understand her
The problem was recently highlighted in the House of Lords by fertility expert Lord Winston, who warned that the poor language skills of Eastern European nurses were compromising patient safety.The Mail used the Freedom of Information Act to ask all 168 hospital trusts in England what checks they carried out on the language abilities of nurses before hiring them. Of the 104 who replied, only seven said they set their own test or asked to see proof that nurses had passed some form of English exam.
A further nine said they set general literacy tests for all candidates, not just those coming from overseas, but experts say these are not enough to establish whether foreign staff can understand English.Many of the remainder think they do not need to bother setting their own tests as they think the NMC will have already checked.
Tragic: David Gray, who died in 2008 when German GP Daniel Ubani gave him 20 times the recommended dose of painkillers
Although nearly all hospitals will interview nurses before appointing them, experts say this is not enough to assess whether nurses can understand patients, relatives or even their own colleagues on busy wards.
Howard Catton, head of policy at the
Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘There needs to be a rigorous
recruitment and selection process in place. This would include looking
at background checks on CVs, face-to-face interviews and if necessary
separate English tests.
because somebody has general language competence we can’t assume they
have the specialist terminology needed to explain somebody’s condition
or prescribing medication.’
the past 12 months 3,179 nurses from other EU countries have registered
with the NMC – although it is not known how many went on to work in
hospitals. All other nurses coming to work in England from elsewhere in
the world have to undergo rigorous English exams.
They must score seven out of a possible nine in speaking, listening, reading and writing tests.
The flaw in the EU rules that bans
national tests from being carried out on either doctors or nurses was
tragically exposed in 2008 when 70-year-old David Gray was killed by
German GP Daniel Ubani.
The doctor, who had a poor grasp of English, gave the pensioner 20 times the recommended dose of morphine.
Some hospitals send nurses on English language courses – paid for by the taxpayer.