If you can’t understand English, you can’t work in the UK. That’s as simple as that, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, the greedy employment agencies and the needy hospitals didn’t care about that “minor” detail. As long as foreign nurses were willing to migrate to England, no one posed any problems relating to language proficiency.
That was the reality up until January 2016, when European Union regulations started to allow member states to impose language tests to nurses and midwives coming from other EU countries.
Since then, so many nurses were rejected for failing the language test (IELTS) that hospital managers and recruiting agency managers have already asked the NMC to lower the standards of approval from 7 to 6.5 on a nine-point evaluation system.
Since the beginning of this vetting process, they relaxed the rules once, allowing overseas nurses to take the exams in two sittings instead of one.
Last week, the Telegraph published an article about a Romanian nurse suspended by the NMC because he didn’t understand English well enough to communicate.
Let’s begin by describing the recruitment process. Normally, an NHS trust hospital hires an employment agency to find nurses in foreign countries who are willing to work in the UK. Then, the agency reaches out to its branches in the supplying countries of the EU (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Romania, etc.) and the recruitment process begins. The candidates are interviewed in their native language and sometimes also in English. If the nurse fits the profile, he is then interviewed by the hospital’s HR department, normally via Skype.
That’s what happened with Jean Ruxanda, the Romanian nurse. He was interviewed via Skype by someone from the Yeovil District Hospital and hired to work in their operating theater.
At the time, EU regulations did not allow the Nursing and Midwifery Council to test the language skills of its applicants.
“Lack of depth of answers for Band 5 level – language?” and “unable to vocalize”
Was he capable of misleading the HR person into thinking his difficulties to speak and understand English were due to some Skype connection problems? Probably not. As shown on the notes taken during the interview “Lack of depth of answers for Band 5 level – language?” and “unable to vocalize”. But, even if he did, when he got to the hospital his low level of English was surely obvious. The NMC couldn’t test the nurses’ ability to speak Shakespeare’s language but the Trusts should refuse to engage them based on the difficulties to communicate.
Regardless of his language mastery problems, Mr. Ruxanda started to work in November 2015. His colleagues soon realized his English wasn’t bad… it was terrible! It was necessary to talk very slowly and even then, it seemed like he had serious difficulties understanding and retaining instructions. One of his colleagues testified that she thought he had to “lip read” most of the time, a strategy of little effect in a theater since everyone is using masks.
The same witness stated a list of examples as evidence his English skills could endanger patients:
- Difficulties completing paperwork;
- Was unable to name the surgeries being performed;
- Lacked knowledge about analgesic drugs and types of sutures;
- Transmitted the wrong information about infiltrations used and types of closures for wounds.
On 30 December 2015, Ruxanda’s line manager finally met with him to discuss his language skills. He was given some suggestions to improve his English, like listening to the radio and watching television. At the time, he informed his manager that he was taking weekly English lessons.
They allowed him to work for one and a half months before telling him that he really needed to improve his English to keep his job. It seems the hospital’s administration had a rather lax approach during those 45 days. He wasn’t given the support nor accountability needed to safely perform his work during that time.
Another important detail is that his probationary period was due to end on the 16 January 2016. He didn’t improve his language proficiency in 45 days but somehow the hospital’s administration expected to see significant progress in 15 days?! It’s obvious that it was very unlikely to happen.
As expected, they terminated his contract at the end of the probationary period. And, only then the Trust decided to do the right thing and file a complaint with the NMC for unsafe practice related to a lack of knowledge of English.
In August 2016, the NMC wrote to Mr. Ruxanda asking him to take an English language assessment. That was 6 months after his original contract was terminated and during that time he was free to work as a nurse in the UK, even if he didn’t understand the language.
Luckily for the English people, it seems like Ruxanda understood that he wasn’t ready to work in the UK and returned to Romania.
Following the complaint, the NMC tried to contact him several times by letter, email and even by phone, to which he never responded. That’s the reason he didn’t attend the hearing that took place the 30 and 31 May 2017 – more than a year after the complaint was made!
What is also a bit strange is the media attention this case has had in the last few days.
The Romanian nurse has likely returned to his country more than a year ago and is probably not going back to the UK. Also, he only worked in England for a short period and as far as we know, he didn’t kill anyone… So why are the British media so interested in this case?
Is it a part of the right-wing’s sensationalist agenda to put this kind of cases in the spotlight? No doubts about it! Unfortunately, this kind of articles only fuel the xenophobic speech and don’t look at the real issues.
The real issues are, among others, the 23% reduction of nursing and midwifery applications after the end of the NHS bursaries, the unclear situation of overseas nurses in a post-Brexit scenario and the degrading situation of the NHS with unsafe staffing being already a major problem. And on top of all of that, nurses’ standard of living is lower every year due to the 1% pay cap, with some having to go to food banks to feed their families.