A Third of New Nurses Fail Simple English and Maths Test

A third of nurses expecting to graduate next month have failed a basic English and maths test set by a hospital as part of a new selection process. As nurses must be able to calculate drug doses and keep accurate notes, this high failure rate has alarmed the hospital and the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The questions involve simple arithmetic and everyday comprehension. They will be given to all nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers and clerical and other workers seeking jobs with the East Kent NHS Hospitals Trust, in Canterbury.

Thirteen of 40 nurses completing training at Canterbury Christ Church University -the first to take the 20-minute test – failed to achieve the 60 per cent  pass rate.

One question is: if a night shift starts at 8pm, is it the same as 18.00, 19.00, 20.00 or 21.00 hours? Another asks: how many minutes are there in half an hour? The nurses are understood to be products of the British schools system. Traditionally the hospital trust has drawn nurses from the university and most have been training on the wards.

As the competition for jobs becomes fiercer, the test has been introduced as part of the selection process. The Nursing and Midwifery Council, which runs the nursing register, has become worried about falling standards in education.

It announced yesterday that it had appointed HLSP, an independent organisation, to run a new system to monitor educational standards at nursing schools. The monitoring will start in the new academic year in October to “support public safety”.

The council also announced this week that it was raising the standards in the English language test given to nurses from outside the European Union.

Julie Barton, the deputy director of nursing at the East Kent trust, said: “It was surprising when we found out the number of people who had not reached

the mark of 60 per cent, especially as they have completed their training and had to have GCSE English and maths to get on the course. We genuinely did

not expect problems but we will now have to sit down with Christ Church and see what these results mean.” She said the trust would look at what training and support it could provide if a candidate had just missed the pass mark.

“But if they fail badly, it will affect their chances of getting a job,” Miss Barton said. “With all other things being equal, if two candidates are after one position, the one who has done well in this test will be preferred. “We have a responsibility to our patients to ensure that every member of staff caring for them is trained to the necessary levels.”

Miss Barton said that an integral part of the nursing code of conduct was accurate record keeping and the safe administration of drugs.

Sarah Thewlis, the chief executive and registrar of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, said: “It is essential that all nurses and midwives are able to demonstrate that they have basic English and numeracy skills.

“The council has received anecdotal evidence from colleges and universities suggesting that there is a worrying number of nursing students who lack such basic skills.”

Prof Margaret Andrews, the university’s pro-vice chancellor and dean of the faculty of health, said it would be inappropriate to comment on the appointment criteria set by the hospital.

She said: “All students must have a minimum of five GCSEs, including maths and English, for a place on the diploma in nursing and two A-levels at grade C for a place on the BSc in nursing.

“Final year nursing students have undertaken a series of rigorous assessments over the course of three years.” All examination results are not yet in but the university is confidently expecting a high pass rate.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday on the publication of a new compact Oxford English Dictionary designed to help students to improve their basic

writing skills because levels of spelling and grammar are so poor among school leavers.