Is the NHS Failing to Keep Patients Safe? Understanding NHS Pre-Employment Screening

The NHS has had a lot of flak recently as budget cuts have meant the level of care has lowered for many. Despite the almost constant news coverage, we try to do our best to keep a level head, remember this is just a small number of cases, and that we’re lucky to have a free, nationwide health service available to all.

Admittedly, this is hard when we hear that a number of failings have been made and NHS employment check standards have not been met. Several cases have hit the news in recent weeks which makes us more enthusiastic than ever to encourage in-depth screening.

Fake Doctorates, Pretend Illnesses, and Incorrect Accolades

This week, the story of Phillip Hufton hit the headlines as the Stockport resident was found guilty of scamming £350,000 from the NHS through fake expense emails.

Hufton, 52, is also reported to have pretended to have cancer, owned fake army medals he had bought online, and lied on his CV about having a PhD when applying for a job at a hospital in Cambridgeshire. In fact, he wasn’t a doctor at all, simply holding a Bachelor of Nursing degree and not belonging to any of the professional bodies he claimed.

Hufton was fired in January 2016 after his deceit was unveiled and the police became involved.

A spokesman for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust said:

“The actions of Philip Hufton were reprehensible. He had come to the Trust highly recommended and with good references.

“However, at a time when NHS finances are under severe pressure, he decided to defraud taxpayers’ money for personal gain.

“He also sought to win the trust of staff with his series of lies.

“He may well have committed further crimes if hadn’t been for the diligence of colleagues who raised initial concerns, and our internal investigators who then alerted Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

“We would like to thank police for their support and the painstaking investigation they undertook, and the sentence given to Philip Hufton is entirely appropriate.”

Well-said by the Trust, however, how did this person get a position of trust as a business development manager for the NHS based on lies?

In a similar case reported by the BBC, more than 3,000 foreign doctors are now being urgently checked after a New Zealander, Zholia Alemi, was found to have practised psychiatry for 22 years in the UK without any qualifications.

Alemi registered in the UK in 1995 claiming to have a medical degree from Auckland University, but she had in fact dropped out of the course after her first year. For the last couple of years, she had been working as a consultant psychiatrist for a dementia service in West Cumbria.

The General Medical Council (GMC) has revealed that under a Medical Act that has not been in force since 2003, Alemi was allowed to join the NHS register and did not have to sit and pass a two-part medical test that foreign doctors must normally have to pass before they can legally work in the UK – the Professional and Linguistic Assessment Board (PLAB) exam.

Worryingly, it seems her qualification lie was only revealed when Alemi was jailed for fraud in October after faking a dementia patient’s will in an attempt to inherit their £1.3m estate.

The GMC has apologised for ‘inadequate’ checks made in the 90s and ‘any risks arising to patients as a result’. Today the GMC states its processes are ‘far stronger’ and is undergoing a review of potentially thousands of medical licences.


What Are Current NHS Employment Check Standards?

If a candidate is successful at interview and is offered a job with the NHS, a number of checks should be carried out by the employer, including:

Identification Checks

An individual will be asked to provide proof that they are who they say they are and that they have the right to work in the UK.

Qualification Verification

If a role requires professional qualification or registration, the employer should verify the individual holds these by checking with the appropriate provider or regulatory body. The same process will happen should a licence be required.

NHS DBS Checks

Depending on the role sought, a DBS NHS analysis may be required, and a job offer should be subject to passing this check. Here are a few examples of hospital-based roles required to be checked under the NHS DBS policy:

Basic Disclosure Health records assistant or receptionist, IT managers, shop assistant

Standard Disclosure Contractors or cleaners on a regular ward, laundry service providers, medical secretaries

Enhanced Disclosure Psychotherapists, doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, paramedics, interpreters, cleaners on a children’s/psychiatric ward, drivers of children’s transport services, hospital porters

Employment History and Reference Gathering

Lastly, all employees must provide a full employment history and references should be sought covering a minimum period of three years.


How Will Brexit Affect International Criminal Screening?

With Brexit just months away, and some past employment screening checks not being successfully carried out, as in the case of Zholia Alemi, it is understandable that many people are now wondering how leaving the UK will affect international disclosures.

We believe international checks for individuals from nations outside of the EU should not change. However, we would expect the number of checks made on those from EU countries to decrease for a while once we leave and a new screening process to be implemented or adapted.
How international screening for European candidates will change is still somewhat up in the air at the moment as we wait to see if a ‘deal’ is made and what it may include, but we would expect checks to take slightly longer once implemented.

With that in mind, we would encourage anyone who currently employs international staff or is considering hiring outside the UK to ensure up-to-date disclosures are in place ahead of the March 29th exit.


Screen Your Staff With CBS’ Help

The NHS does everything it can to keep its patients safe and provide the best possible treatment. If you’d like to learn more about doctor DBS checks or how we can help running employment screening on staff easier, please get in touch with our friendly and knowledgeable team today.

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