On the night of the Grenfell Tower fire, nurse Georgia van Zantvoort watched the tragedy unfold from the window of her nearby flat.
The 24-year-old used to work at New Zealand’s busiest hospital casualty department and says: ‘I know how to save lives. I was minutes from the tower block. I wanted to be there helping. But because I’m not a registered NHS nurse, there was nothing I could do.’
Georgia is one of many qualified nurses from Australia and New Zealand living in the UK who are desperate for an NHS post but find that strict entrance tests and red tape bar their way.
In our overstretched health service, 40,000 more nurses are urgently needed to fill vacant posts. Indeed, England’s largest hospital trust, Barts Health in London, has 1,732 unfilled jobs, while applications for university nurse training are down by 23 per cent this year after bursaries were scrapped.
Meanwhile, the NHS turns down many highly trained foreign nurses, who are being forced to make ends meet in the UK as waitresses, nannies and classroom assistants.
This unhappy state of affairs was highlighted by 26-year-old Claire Brady, an Australian living in Hammersmith, West London, after it was revealed that the NHS has launched a recruitment drive to hire Indian nurses because of the staffing crisis.
Claire, a nurse trained in emergency and recovery who now works six days a week as a carer in London, said: ‘I am flabbergasted that the NHS makes it so difficult for people from Australia and New Zealand to work in the nursing profession in which they are trained.
‘The process of registering as a nurse in the NHS can take up to a year and cost more than £3,000. It involves a compulsory English language test, which is surely superfluous to native speakers from New Zealand and Australia.’ Her experience is shared by many other Australian and New Zealand nurses here.
In this picture are 11 who came to Britain hoping to join the NHS, yet none has been able to do so.
Many blame the ‘unnecessary’ and ‘difficult’ English language test, which is compulsory for all foreign nurses, even if they are from English-speaking countries.
All nurses from overseas must pass this language test to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council before they can work at an NHS hospital. The test has four elements — speaking, listening, reading and writing. Foreign nurses also have to do a computer-based theory test and a practical clinical test.
If nurses are recruited by NHS trusts, which head-hunt in India and the Philippines, they can be sponsored for a five-year visa and do the bulk of the testing before they arrive here.
If, however, like many Australian and New Zealand nurses, they come here on a standard two-year working visa, they often take the tests in the UK — a process they have criticised as overly demanding and slow.
Calls for an easier English language test in particular have come after devastating revelations about the failure rates.
This week, one hospital trust revealed that only three of 111 applicants for NHS jobs from the Philippines had passed the exam.
Directors at Walsall Manor Hospital in the West Midlands said the exam overseen by the Nursing and Midwifery Council is too tough.
But critics see a particular irony in the fact that the test, which asks candidates to understand complex medical and academic articles, is obstructing nurses who speak English as a first language.
Campaigners for a change in the rules say the standards of the English test, in which candidates need to score seven out of a possible nine marks to pass, are the equivalent of Oxford University’s English language requirements for its international undergraduates.
Another problem for disappointed Australian and New Zealand nurses is what they see as long-winded bureaucracy and lengthy paper trails. Here are some of their stories
1. Courtney Brown
Working as an agency carer, Courtney, 29, lives in London.
‘I started trying to be an NHS nurse in January 2016 so it has taken 19 months so far,’ says the critical care nurse from the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital in Australia.
‘Everything has to be sent by post. There was a problem because two of my references were emailed by mistake. My visa runs out in May and if I don’t get the registration I’ll have to go home.’
2. Claire Brady
The 26-year-old Australian is personal carer for an elderly man in Chelsea. Claire has a nursing degree and experience in emergency and recovery. She says: ‘There are a huge number of nurses from my country and New Zealand in the UK whose skills are going to waste in roles such as nannying, personal care and waitressing.’
3. Georgia van Zantvoort
The 24-year-old from Auckland, New Zealand, lives in Shepherd’s Bush, West London, and works as an adviser for an East London occupational health company.
‘Back home I’m an accident and emergency nurse. I have a two-year visa and I know it can take nearly that time to complete the tests leading up to NHS registration. It can cost more than £3,000 and I might only be a nurse here for a few months.’
4. Miriam Petterson
She has a nursing degree and worked for six years in a GP practice in New Zealand. At 29, Miriam also passed a specialist diploma from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. Yet she is a nanny in Essex. Bizarrely, she failed the English test the first time, although she also has an English degree. ‘I thought it was odd. I feel they set you up for failure.’
5. Mel Reed
The 23-year-old New Zealander has a nursing degree but works as an ophthalmic technician in Harley Street, London.
‘My visa is for two years and becoming an NHS nurse is such a long process. I decided that by the time I took the exams and did all the paperwork, I would have to go home again.’
6. Ingrid Matthews
A live-in nanny for a family in Putney, South-West London, Ingrid, 25, is from Melbourne, Australia. She has a degree in nursing and midwifery and came to London last September hoping to join the NHS. But the lengthy process has discouraged her. ‘A lot of nursing practice in my country originated here in London, yet still we can’t get a job here.’
7. Sophie Newcombe
The specialised respiratory nurse lives in Bayswater, West London, and is working as a nanny and switchboard operator. She was put off trying to become an NHS nurse because the process is so daunting.
Sophie, 25, says: ‘The nursing school I went to is one of the top ones in New Zealand. It took me three years at university and a year of postgraduate study to get my qualification, and apparently it means nothing here in the UK.’
8. Sarah Hindmarsh
A 29-year-old from Wellington, New Zealand, Sarah has a nursing degree but works as an adviser for an occupational health company in East London. She has a British passport (because her mother emigrated from Kent) and back home she ran a night ward.
However, she has twice failed the practical exam to become an NHS nurse and has given up. ‘I would now have to start again and that would cost another £3,000.’
9. Taylah Brackin
The Australian, 23, has a nursing degree and worked for two years at a large Queensland hospital before arriving here in April.
‘I started the process of registration by sitting the English test. I needed a mark of seven but got 6.5. I have a two-year visa and the whole process was going to last months, then I’d only have a short time left to work as a nurse.’
Now a teaching assistant living in Clapham, South London, she adds: ‘My nursing experience is being wasted.’
10. Chloe Horton
A general nurse from New Zealand living in Peterborough, 30-year-old Chloe works as a hospital healthcare assistant. She has been in the UK for 18 months and failed part of the clinical test necessary to be an NHS nurse.
Her visa runs out in November and because of time delays she is going to go home: ‘I am told half the nurses from Australia and New Zealand fail this clinical test the first time. It’s unfair we have to do an English language exam.’
11. Charlotte Rosenberg
Working as a nanny and living in Wandsworth Common, London, Charlotte, 25, has a nursing degree and was an orthopaedic nurse for 18 months before coming to Britain five weeks ago.
She is to start taking the exams leading to NHS registration soon. The English exam, the first, costs about £160: ‘English is the only language I speak and to be tested on it is so frustrating.’
By Sue Reid Daily Mail
Additional research by KiwiOz Nannies London
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