Brexit may not be the only factor in dwindling number of EU nurses
- Credit: IAN BURT
The number of nurses coming to work in our region from the European Union has fallen, hospital leaders have said.
But while nationally the decline has been blamed on last year's Brexit referendum, locally there is concern English tests - introduced for EU nurses in January last year - have had more of an impact.
In January 2016, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, in King's Lynn, took on eight nurses from the EU, compared to 11 non-EU nurses and zero British nurses.
But since then - up to April this year - just 22 EU nurses have been recruited, with the majority of months seeing no EU nurses coming on board.
Val Newton, deputy chief nurse, said they were unable to attribute the fall to Brexit and added: 'This reduction followed the introduction by the NMC of the international English language test which requires all nurses from Europe to achieve level seven prior to their registration.'
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Across the country, figures from the Health Foundation showed the number of nurses from the EU registering to practise in the UK fell by 96pc since July last year.
But recruiters said although Brexit had an adverse effect, the problem had been intensified by the English test being set at an 'academic' rather than a 'working' level.
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The IELTS exam has been used for nurses and midwives from outside the European Union since 2007, but in January 2016 it was rolled out to all applicants who did not train in the UK. However, some reports suggest it is taking applicants between eight and 12 months to pass the exam, with the majority of applicants needing more than one attempt.
There have been calls for the pass rate to be lowered to 6.5, to bring it in line with other countries such as the USA, Australia and Canada. And more than 3,600 nurses signed a petition to that effect.
At the James Paget University Hospital, in Gorleston, a spokesman said they had not seen a drop in the number of EU nurses starting at the hospital and declined to comment on whether the English tests had an impact on numbers. A spokesman for the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital added: 'We are aware of the shortage of registered nurses and the recruitment pool has been challenging for some time. However we have not noticed a specific decline since Brexit and we continue to recruit a range of suitable staff to our vacancies.'
A Cypriot nurse who worked at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital fell foul of the English test and was suspended for 12 months.
Eleni Stavrou worked in the hospital's emergency assessment unit surgical from February 8 to April 25 last year.
But in May 2016, concerns were raised about Miss Stavrou's lack of English, and NNUH referred her to the regulator for nursing and midwifery professions, the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
The NMC heading, held last month, heard how Miss Stavrou had an overall average score of 5.5 - which would not have passed the threhold even if the pass mark was lowered.
NNUH director of nursing, Emma McKay, said: 'We offer every support to staff who may need extra help with an aspect of their role, however occasionally there are cases where it is necessary to refer to the regulator for nursing and midwifery professions, the NMC.'