A Kiwi nurse required to sit a three-hour English exam before practising in Britain says candidates were told on a noticeboard they would be allowed "no xtra time".

Hospital intensive care nurse Kathryn Carey said the spelling error was written three times under separate headings in an exam room at Auckland University at the weekend, injecting light relief into what became a six-hour ordeal after she had to wait around for a 15-minute interview.

"It was hilarious," the 26-year-old Aucklander said yesterday, while waiting for her exam result from the International English Language Testing System, an agency part-owned by the British Council.

But she said the blooper had its serious side, given she had to pay $385 to prove she could speak English despite being born in New Zealand and having graduated with nursing qualifications from Auckland and Massey universities.


"It seems an extraordinary amount to prove you can speak English," she told the Herald.

Although passing the exam has been a requirement of Britain's Nursing and Midwifery Council since 2004 for all nurses trained outside Europe, Ms Carey said she was giving voice to frustration suffered by many friends who had sat it before going there to work.
She had no quibbles with the council's other, professional, requirements needed to ensure nurses arriving in Britain from overseas could adjust to its health system.

Ms Carey, who hopes to work in Britain next year while on her OE, said the language exam was "basically a test for foreigners to prove they can speak English - not for people [for whom] English is their first language".

The British nursing council intends changing its entry requirements in October to a two-part professional competence test, the first of which can be sat online in New Zealand to be followed by a practical exam which can be taken only in Britain.

But it has no intention of abolishing the English language exam for nurses from New Zealand and many other countries, even though it is prevented by law from requiring those trained in Europe from sitting it.

Josephine Wallis, chief executive of the recruitment firm Geneva Health International, last night said the existing system as a nightmare under which only about 50 New Zealand nurses travelled to Britain for work each year.

New Zealand Nursing Council chief executive Carolyn Reed said British nurses have to pass English language exams before working here.

But they could choose between two types of exam, one being more occupationally-related than the IELTS version, which was not designed for health professionals.