Criminal background checks for the healthcare industry

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With over 1.4 million people working for the NHS alone, health and social care is one of the largest employment sectors in the UK. Criminality checking is therefore imperative to ensure not only the safety of patients, but also to adhere to government regulations.

According to an article by the National Association for Care and Resettlement of offenders (NACRO), over 20% of the UK working-age population has at least one criminal conviction. And that is believed to be a conservative figure.

Criminal checking is essential to guarantee the safety of people accessing healthcare, as well as to ensure safeguarding requirements are met across the NHS and other healthcare providers.

The authorities to provide criminality checks in the UK are Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), covering England and Wales, Disclosure Scotland (DS) and Access NI (Northern Ireland).

There are three main levels of checking: Basic – which only checks for unspent convictions, Standard – which looks for spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings and reprimands, and Enhanced – the highest level of check which reveals spent and unspent convictions, cautions, warnings, reprimands and any other relevant police data. To be eligible for Standard and Enhanced checks, candidates must be facing a role which involves children and/or vulnerable adults, but a Basic check can be accessed by anyone for any purpose.

Face to face healthcare providers are required by law to be screened with a full enhanced DBS check, which covers working with both children and adults. But it is not just doctors and nurses who are required to have an enhanced DBS check. Any employee carrying out regulated activities, such as porters accompanying patients to wards or volunteers helping at a doctor’s surgery, must also be subject to an enhanced check. Other healthcare employees who have access to wards must be screened with a minimum of a standard DBS check. The NHS have a useful online tool to determine which employees are entitled to a DBS check.

Remember that DBS checking is accurate only at the time of the check, employees in the healthcare industry should be rechecked annually to ensure that all information is up to date. Candidates should also be made aware of their contractual responsibilities to disclose any new or ongoing criminal investigations or proceedings during their employment.

DBS checking only reveals criminal activity in the UK, it will not reveal criminal activity which has taken place abroad, whether the applicant is a British National or not. For non-UK nationals, it is important to carry out a criminal record disclosure on the home country.

Having carried the appropriate criminal record check, employers should consider the information carefully before deciding whether to employ a candidate, ensuring the safety of patients and other healthcare providers.