UK health chiefs are to consider whether English language tests for international nurses are too tough after the issue was found to be at the centre of a staffing shortage on the area's hospital wards.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council has launched a review of the controversial IELT tests which are used to determine whether foreign nurses have a good enough standard of English to work in the NHS.

The news comes weeks after the Evening Mail revealed just two of 104 qualified nurses offered jobs within Furness General Hospital's parent trust in the last 17 months have been able to start work because of the high test score required.

A spokesman for the NMC said while the issue would now be investigated, there could be no guarantee of a change to the score required.

"While we are aware of some concerns about our English language policy, we do not currently have any hard evidence on which to base a change.

"However, as a responsible regulator that continually looks at the suitability of all the standards we set, we have committed to looking at this standard and gathering further evidence over the coming months.

"We are committed to working with organisations to better understand their concerns, but at this stage it is important to state that this decision does not indicate that we feel the current standard we require is wrong or that we are committing to change."

International nurses outside of the EU have to score an average of seven in their internationally recognised IELTS tests to be allowed to work in UK hospitals.

But the average score required by the United States, Canada and Australia is 6.5.

Many of the 104 nurses offered positions within the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust - many of which are from India - have missed the pass mark by half a point.

The trust currently has 160 full time equivalent nursing vacancies.

Despite pressure on hospital services, a number of beds remain closed because there are not enough staff to cover them.

Recruitment within the UK is increasingly difficult after the government axed training bursaries for student nurses last year - affecting the numbers of young people choosing to enter the profession.

The situation prompted a warning from UHMBT chief executive Jackie Daniel warned in March that the workforce issue was beginning to impact upon services.

This week Sue Smith, the trust's executive chief nurse, welcomed the NMC's move to review the English test score for international recruits.

"I am pleased that the NMC is considering whether to bring the high test score in line with other countries.

"The issue is that if our recruited nurses get a score of 6.5 they can go and work in other countries but not here.

"We have raised this issue and I'm glad the NMC have recognised it."

Mrs Smith added: "We have a number of beds closed that will be reopened once we can staff them safely.

"This wasn't an easy decision to make but patient safety always comes first."

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