Highly-skilled Greek nurse working in care home after failing English test five times

Greek nurse Foteini Kourakou is unable to work in the NHS as she has narrowly failed a difficult English language test five times. She is currently working as a care assistant in a nursing home. Picture by Hugh Russell.
Seanín Graham

A HIGHLY-SKILLED Greek nurse who speaks perfect English cannot work in a Northern Ireland hospital because she has narrowly failed the written component of an NHS language test five times.

Foteini Kourakou (27), who was based in an intensive care unit in Greece for three years and is currently studying for a Masters degree in nursing, has been working as a care assistant in a nursing home in Co Antrim for the past year.

She has spent almost £1,000 in exam fees and tutoring to pass the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) test and continues to score highly in three exam sections - but keeps failing the essay component.

Essay subjects she has faced include road tolls in the north - even though none exist here - and if art can be "created by everyone".

To qualify to work in the NHS, candidates need to score at least seven out of nine in four sections.

Ms Kourakou's latest scores are 8.5 for listening, 8 for reading, 7.5 for speaking and 6.5 in the writing element.

In the Republic, she would have easily passed as its IELTS scoring system is more lenient with candidates requiring an overall average of 7 to gain registration. They are allowed to score 6.5 in one of the four components.

Read more: Nurses from Republic of Ireland asked to sit English language exam to work in north

Speaking to The Irish News, the University of Athens graduate who moved here to be with her boyfriend last September, said she had become "completely demoralised".

"I have booked my sixth IELTS for the end of July but if I don't pass this time I am going to take a break as it is taking such a toll on me emotionally. I get really nervous and it's getting worse. There is also the cost.

"I would like to work in an ICU in Northern Ireland but if I don't pass I will continue to work in the care home. Nursing is all I've ever wanted to do, I love my job.

"It just doesn't make any sense why they are making it so difficult with these essay questions when they need nurses so badly."

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