Puzzle over failed Kenyan nurses English proficiency tests

Health CS Mutahi Kagwe during a press conference at the Ministry of Health headquarters in Nairobi. [David Njaaga, Standard]

There is confusion over Cabinet Secretary health Mutahi Kagwe's statement that Kenyan nurses massively failed English proficiency tests administered ahead of taking up jobs in the UK.

This after it emerged that the ministry of labour is not aware of any tests done so far despite it being in charge of the process which was initiated by a bilateral deal between Kenya and UK governments.

Top ministry of labour officials told The Standard that they were taken aback by the revelation of Kagwe, and hoped that he was either misquoted or misunderstood.

Kagwe told a Mombasa forum that out of 300 people who undertook the exams, only 10 passed. His statement, at the same time, also spoke of preparations that needed to be done before the exams are taken.

‘We send 300 people to do the exams, 10 passed. So, I am challenging you that this is going to happen. We are going to negotiate yes, but you are going to have to pass the exams, not me, you!

‘So when we do these exams, lets prepare ourselves. Let’s set the standards so that we are sure that there is no exam, anywhere on earth, that a clinical officer trained in Kenya can fail.’

The statement sent shockwaves, with Kenyans surprised at the massive failure and nurses protesting that the CS had embarrassed them. Kagwe did not respond or clarify his statement with sources close to him telling the Sunday Standard to focus on the bigger picture.

‘You are still pursuing that angle? Not every story has to be an attack on the CS. Why don’t you find the content of the exam, and whether doctors fail? He never said all nurses have done the exam, because not all have," the source said.

But the labour ministry said the process of preparing the nurses to sit the tests is underway, and Afya House role was to certify, through the Nursing Council, that the nurses who applied to go the UK are indeed certified nurses.

Because of the numbers involved, the ministry is working to bring them all together for a briefing, as well as coaching to ensure that they eventually qualify for the program.

‘We are calling all the nurses who were confirmed and registered by the nursing council for a pre departure steps briefing. They will be briefed on English, CBT and medical tests and application for work visas, this will possibly take place on 16th of this month,’ a senior ministry of labour official said.

The official said they plan to physically assemble 470 nurses, ten from each county while the rest will follow the training virtually.

‘How could they have done the tests without this engagement, and without our knowledge. The tests are usually administered through the British Council, you can also ask them and they will tell you that this has not been done,’ the official added.

 When we reached the British High Commission, however, Joy Odero from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, said they were not in a good position to confirm the claims of massive failure alluded by Kagwe.

 “If you need clarification you have to follow-up with CS Kagwe. The information he gave out is not from our office since we were not involved in the process,” she said.

The Standard reached out to the Nursing Council of Kenya’s office for comments but there was no response over the same.  The person who picked the call said that they will get back to us as soon as possible.

In July, Kenya agreed with the UK to send its unemployed health workers to serve in the UK's National Health Service. The agreement would see nurses and health workers in the East African nations given a chance to work in the UK for a fixed period.

According to the British authorities, almost 900 Kenyans are working in the NHS in various capacities.