Hundreds of Nigerian midwives working for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS) have been suspected of gaining their medical qualifications by fraudulently having others take their exams for them in their home country, and dozens remain under investigation.
In a press release published on Wednesday, the U.K.’s Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) explained it had received reports back in May this year of “unusual data” relating to computer-based tests at the Yunnik Technologies Test Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria.
It added that, following an investigation, it now believes “there is evidence of widespread fraud at the Yunnik site.”
Foreign nurses who wish to join the NMC register and work in healthcare in Britain are required to undergo several assessments to prove their competency, one of which includes a computer-based test (CBT).
The healthcare regulator initially raised doubts over the legitimacy of test results pertaining to 515 Nigerian nurses and midwives currently practicing in the U.K. and deemed their results invalid.
This list has since been narrowed down to 48 individuals the NMC believes are “likely” to be fraudulent applicants, although all who took the exam at the test center will be required to retake it.
“We suspect some people fraudulently obtained their CBT, probably by use of a proxy tester, where someone takes the test on behalf of someone else. Overall, this means we cannot have confidence in any CBT result from this test center and we’re treating all CBTs obtained at Yunnik as invalid,” the NMC said in a statement.
A further 669 nurses and midwives who have applied to work in Britain but are not yet employed are also understood to have fraudulently passed the exam.
“We’ve paused their applications,” the NMC confirmed. “We’re writing to these applicants to ask them to retake the test, and to request more information that we’ll use to make a final decision about their application.”
However, despite the investigations into the fraudulent applicants, those already employed will still be allowed to work in their current roles during the process, a decision that has been slammed by critics as a potential threat to the safety of patients.
“Nobody wants to see individuals who may be innocent automatically penalized, but the nursing regulator has a duty to protect patients, and the sensibilities of those whose qualifications are in doubt must come second to this duty,” Prof. Len Shackleton, an editorial and research fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs told MailOnline.
“We understand this continues to be a distressing time for people facing uncertainty about their application or place on our register. We’re committed to managing these concerns in the safest and fairest way we can. It’s been essential to look carefully at all the data and other information presented to us before deciding on the right and proportionate approach for everyone,” said Andrea Sutcliffe, NMC Chief Executive and Registrar.
“Internationally educated nurses and midwives make an incredibly important contribution to our health and social care system. Our paramount concern remains to protect the public by maintaining the integrity of the register for nursing and midwifery professionals practicing in the U.K. That’s why we’ve responded to this situation with such painstaking care and consideration,” she added.
Nigerian-trained healthcare professionals comprise the third-largest foreign contingent in NHS staff in Britain, with 10,639 trained nurses and midwives practicing across the country. However, their recruitment is controversial with the African nation declared a “red list” country for healthcare recruitment over fears of a brain-drain of educated individuals.