Tougher background checks for NHS staff

Hundreds of health workers in Lothian could have hidden criminal pasts exposed by new records checks that are set to cost the NHS more than 
£1 million to carry out.

Scottish health boards have been told that staff must join the government’s Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme, which is being implemented following an inquiry into the 2002 Soham murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Most of NHS Lothian’s 24,000 workers will have to join the scheme and undergo the more rigorous background screening, leading health bosses to admit that previously unknown criminal convictions are expected to be unearthed.

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Alan Boyter, the health board’s human resources director, said that “problems” are expected in around one per cent of cases, which would amount to approximately 200 of the region’s NHS workers.

While it is expected that “relatively few offences” that require a decision will be uncovered, staff members who may have been working for the NHS for several years without any problems could be sacked if a serious offence is found.

The new checks, which are significantly more expensive than the previous process and need to be completed by 2015, are set to cost NHS Lothian £1.2m after it was decided that staff would not have to pay the £59 fee out of their own ­pockets.

David Forbes, Lothian regional organiser for Unison, said he expected that most new crimes uncovered would be ­historic and relatively minor.

He added: “As we understand it, the vast majority of these cases will be youthful indiscretions which will have no affect on anyone’s ability to work perhaps 20 years later. We welcome the sensible approach that has been taken so far, and if it’s just a minor thing staff shouldn’t be ­worried.

“If there are more serious convictions, I would hope that they would be looked at as sensibly and sympathetically as possible while also looking after the wellbeing and safety of patients.”

Any new information uncovered by the checks will be studied by NHS Lothian HR managers and trade union officials, before they report to Mr Boyter to make a final decision.

NHS Lothian has refused to rule out the possibility that some employees could be sacked if a serious offence is uncovered.

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Mr Boyter said: “This new scheme replaces and improves upon the current disclosure arrangements for people who work with vulnerable groups and these checks are necessary to ensure the safety and ­wellbeing of our patients and staff.”

Plan to prevent another tragedy

The Protecting Vulnerable Groups Scheme was introduced as the Scottish Government’s response to an inquiry into the murders of ten-year-olds Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, pictured.

It was found that murderer Ian Huntley had been employed as their school’s caretaker despite being subject to a string of sexual allegations in the past.

The new scheme, run by Disclosure Scotland, is expected to apply to up to 800,000 people who work with vulnerable children or adults and will see a list of those who are banned from working with vulnerable adults created for the first time and will also incorporate a list of those banned from working with children. Information on convictions, as well as police information on allegations that did not lead to convictions, will be taken into account.