Overseas nurses are struggling to understand common British phrases like ‘feeling sick’ or ‘I need the loo’, health union guidance suggests.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has issued a guide for foreign-trained nurses explaining 50 common sayings or expressions.
A patient telling a foreign trained nurse they were ‘feeling under the weather’ could create an ‘obstacle when assessing a patient’s health and wellbeing’, the union said.
It comes at a time when the NHS is increasingly relying on overseas-trained nurses to fill long-running staff shortages.
Analysis suggests international nurse recruits, from nations like India, Nigeria, and the Philippines, accounted for two-thirds of all new nurses in the UK in recent years.
The latest data, published in May, found that about half of new nurses registering in the UK in 2022/23 were originally trained overseas.
And a rule change enacted last year means those who fail their English language test to come work in the UK could still get a job as long as their employer vouches for their English, a move criticised by patient safety campaigners.
They warned that good communication is vital for patient safety and there was a risk some UK health and care employers desperate for staff could be tempted to vouch for workers English skills to shore up their staff numbers.
Some campaigners have now called for the RCN slang guide to be formally adopted by the NHS as an induction tool for overseas-trained medics to help break down potential communication barriers with patients.
Speaking about the launch of the RCN guide, one nurse, Adekola, described how he was left confused when a patient told him she was feeling sick.
I was confused, because in my mind I was like “come on, I know you are sick, that’s why you are here”,’ he said.
It was only when he saw a colleague reach for a sick bowl that he realised the phrase meant that a patient may be about to vomit.
An RCN spokesperson said: ‘People all over the world use figurative expressions to describe their circumstances and emotions.
‘Often, the words used in these expressions don’t appear to have any connection to what they’re describing.
‘If you were raised and educated in a different country, you may find these expressions to be an additional obstacle when assessing a patient’s health and well-being.
‘The aim of the guide is to help you feel more confident when having important conversations with the people you care for.’