UK’s NHS: More than 700 Nigerian nurses under investigation for taking part in ‘industrial-scale’ qualifications fraud

The regulator revealed in September that 48 nurses and midwives in the African nation were being investigated for paying someone to a sit computer-based exam, which checks medical knowledge and is needed to work in the UK

More than 700 frontline NHS workers from Nigeria could be treating patients despite being under investigation for ‘industrial-scale’ qualifications fraud, it was revealed today.

Regulators revealed in September that 48 nurses and midwives from the African nation were being investigated for paying someone to a sit computer-based exam, which checks medical knowledge and is needed to work in the UK.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) has now warned a further 669 individuals who were assessed at the test centre have applied to join its register. 

Of the 80 applications it has so far checked, the vast majority have been rejected. 

However, these individuals, who are qualified nurses and midwives in their home country, are reportedly still working in the NHS or care homes as healthcare assistants, which can involve performing health checks, taking blood samples and sterilising equipment. 

Nurses and midwives hoping to work in Britain must complete assessments.

These include a computer-based, multiple-choice test that checks their clinical and numeracy skills, which is usually completed in their home country and covers topics like drug dosage calculations, followed by a practical test that is taken in the UK.

Pearson VUE, the company that runs the computer element for the NMC, issued an alert in May about ‘anomalous data’ coming from the Yunnik Technologies Test Centre in Ibadan, south west Nigeria.

A subsequent NMC investigation uncovered ‘widespread fraud’ at the test centre, based on assessment completion times being ‘statistically significantly quicker’ compared to other centres in Nigeria and globally.

As of September, 515 professionals on the NMC register took their computer assessment at this centre — representing around five per cent of those from Nigeria.

The regulator believes that 48 of these people likely paid a proxy tester to take the test on their behalf and, as a result, deemed all results from the Yunnik site as invalid.

These nurses were already working in the NHS when the scandal came to light and the NMC doesn’t have the power to suspend them. However, it has told them to retake the computer test to prove that they are competent. 

Experts have warned that these workers are a risk to patients’ health and that the situation highlights the dangers of the UK’s over-reliance on oversees nurses to fill staffing gaps.

Hearings, expected to start next month, will result in a final decision and determine whether they should be removed from the register.

The NMC has now revealed it has received 669 applications from nurses and midwives tested at the Yunnik centre and is ‘reviewing each application carefully’.

It means that more than 700 nurses are potentially caught up in the scandal. 

The second batch of 669 staff, most of whom have already come to the UK, are largely nurses, while fewer than five are midwives.

However, as the NMC has not yet approved their applications, they are mainly working as healthcare assistants in the NHS and in care homes, according to the newspaper. 

The NMC said internationally educated nurses or midwives take these unregulated roles, which it has no power over, as an interim step while in the process of applying to its register.

Around 80 nurses from this group have retaken their computer test and applied to join the NMC to start working as nurses or midwives but the regulator said it has ‘serious concerns’ about their honesty and trustworthiness. 

Andrea Sutcliffe, the NMC’s chief executive and registrar, told The Guardian: ‘We’ve refused entry to the register for the vast majority of the 80 applications we’ve considered so far, and those individuals can appeal.’

She said: ‘Internationally educated nurses and midwives make an important contribution to our health and social care system. 

‘However, our paramount concern is to protect the public by maintaining the integrity of the register. 

‘That’s why, when concerns were raised with us about the Yunnik test centre, we investigated thoroughly, including asking an independent expert to analyse the data.

‘This produced evidence of widespread fraudulent activity, isolated to the Yunnik site, where we suspect some people obtained their test results fraudulently. 

‘In each case a carefully considered decision will be made about whether to remove those individuals from our register, or refuse their applications to join it.’

Peter Carter, the former chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, told the newspaper: ‘It’s very, very worrying if … there’s an organisation that’s involving themselves in fraudulent activity, enabling nurses to bypass these tests, or if they are using surrogates  to do exams for them because the implication is that we end up in the UK with nurses who aren’t competent’.

He said the NMC’s action will ‘protect the quality of care and patient safety and the reputation of nurses’.

It comes after data this week revealed that a fifth of NHS staff in England are foreign nationals, which is the highest proportion since records began in 2009. 

According to the latest available data from NHS Digital, a third of the 335,763 full-time equivalent (FTE) nurses and health visitors working in England in September whose nationality was known are foreign nationals. 

The most common foreign nationality is Indian, accounting for 10.1 per cent of all FTE nurses and health visitors, followed by Filipino, Nigerian and Irish. 

Health chiefs have warned overseas recruitment cannot fill vacancies in the health service forever, arguing that the figures reflect how heavily the NHS depends on international staff to stop it ‘buckling under pressure’. 

It comes after a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed that NHS staff at every level are working remotely in countries such as Australia and Japan.

At least 335 staff from 33 trusts have been granted to work from a different country in the past two years – including consultants who can earn a basic salary of up to £126,000. 

Culled from daily mail