A HOSPITAL chief claims English language tests for international nurses are too difficult - after just two of 104 new staff recruited from overseas in the last 17 months have been able to start work.

Jackie Daniel, chief executive of the trust in charge of Barrow's Furness General Hospital, has now called for a national review of the exam score needed by qualified nurses before they can gain permission to work in the UK.

She wants the standard relaxed by just half a percentage point to align the UK with other nations including the United States, Canada and Australia to help solve a dire shortage of staff on the wards in the area.

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Furness General Hospital The formal request from Mrs Daniel to Jackie Smith, chief executive of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, comes after it was revealed that just two of 104 qualified nurses offered jobs with the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust since November 2015 have actually started in post.

Many of the remaining 102 scored an average of 6.5 in the International English Language Test System when the level required in the UK is seven.

Jackie Daniel Mrs Daniel said: "This is something I feel very strongly about.

"It's right that the standard of English for international recruits needs to be high.

"But the score is 6.5 in the US, Canada and Australia.

"For me, there's not enough discussion about this nationally and this is why I have written to the NMC."

Mrs Daniel, who warned the UK was now losing the most highly-qualified nurses to other countries that accept a slightly lower IELTS score, added: "We need these applicants.

"Frankly, we are trying to run services but we are reaching a point in the road now where things are coming to a head in terms of workforce."

The qualifications of nurses recruited from other countries are scrutinised by the Nursing and Midwifery Council - the body that regulates nurses and midwives in the UK.

The NMC also sets the pass score for those taking English language tests.

The trust has run a series of international recruitment campaigns over the last three years in countries such as India, Greece, Spain and Portugal.

There is a recognised shortage of student nurses within the UK worsened by the scrapping of the training bursary by the government last year.

Sue Smith Sue Smith, executive chief nurse at UHMBT, said: "These are people with a higher standard of spoken and written English than you or I, yet the score is so high they are missing out by less than one per cent.

"We have been lobbying on this issue because I'm not sure people realise how challenging recruitment is for us in this area.

"Our frontline staff are working exceptionally hard but this issue is hitting morale."

However, a spokesman for the NMC said the IELTS was a "robust, well established and internationally recognised" method of testing English.

He added the NMC had relaxed the scoring criteria last year to allow candidates to achieve level seven over the course of two exams rather than in a single, three-hour sitting.

He added: "It is essential that patients and the public are confident that nurses and midwives are able to understand them and other professional colleagues when delivering care.

"IELTS level seven provides us and the public with assurance that nurses and midwives applying to join the register from outside the UK have the right level of English to work in the UK.

"It is also used by the Home Office and other healthcare regulators in English-speaking countries across the world, where IELTS level seven is the common requirement."

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