Do you really know your staff?

This year has been difficult for the NHS and the healthcare industry, not least due to the usual funding and other typical health service issues, but perhaps more unusually because of issues with staff identity and recruitment. As discussed in the September issue of Health Business, recent debates surrounding the unsuccessful London bomb attempts, and the fact that many of those involved were doctors employed by the NHS, have been incredibly damaging to the health service. Questions are now being asked over the credibility of the NHS recruitment structure, the necessity of confirming the identity of all those employed within the health service and how such instances can be prevented from happening again.

Employing the ‘right’ staff
As demonstrated by the attempted bombings in London and the attack on Glasgow airport, there are far reaching ramifications of employing the ‘wrong’ staff, which could be potentially fatal to the NHS, and as far reaching as its patients and customers. As the challenges within the health industry continue to mount, the use of locums and temporary staff is rising – as is collusive and organised crime – and, in turn, the critical need for dynamic and effective background checking of all potential and actual staff is gaining recognition, but perhaps not enough. A variety of offerings are now available from outsourcers to meet the demand of recruiters in the health industry, and improved awareness will help to reduce the risk of employing a ‘rogue’ or inappropriate member of a team.
This rapidly increasing demand for consensual, secure, outsourced checking to ensure that businesses employ the ‘right’ people presents challenges for professional candidate screening organisations in the continuing development of technology and services to keep up with the dynamic nature of this industry. Significant developments have already been made this year in secure, scalable software applications and data repositories that allow recruiters within the health industry to efficiently check potential employees’ identities and credentials.

Temporary staff
The increasing use of locums and temporary and contract workers only looks set to grow further in the future. With open borders, increased further education and a healthy aging population, the health industry is no exception to this trend.
Frequently taken on at short notice, these workers are often given access to the same levels of security and information as permanent employees within the NHS and its sister companies. Many departments and organisations will not have the time or facilities to check these employees correctly, often to their detriment, potentially exposing important patient or client assets and information to unchecked, possibly fraudulent, employees.
In response to this, employee screening companies have had to react accordingly and update their service provisions. 2007 has seen the launch of new offerings that enable rapid overnight background checking of temporary workers with a report delivered to the recruiter or employer at the start of the next day. This gives the health industry the flexibility to bring on new staff quickly when demand necessitates, whilst still adhering to best practice.

Foreign workers
Another emerging issue is the influx of foreign workers seeking employment in UK businesses. HR departments are generally unable to trace the work history or references of the individual and identity fraud is often an issue with these workers, as is the subsequent validation of their right to work and other legalities.
Dr Edwin Borman, chairman of the British Medical Association’s International Committee, confirmed that, at present, foreign medical worker checks are carried out in a three stage process with a Home Office check, a General Medical Council ‘fitness to practise’ check and a criminal records check.
But what about those subsidiary staff who are often overlooked as a risk at this stage of recruitment, but may have access to the same information and facilities as medical workers? Cleaners, contractors and sub-contractors also need to be considered in this checking procedure.

The employer’s responsibility
The responsibility for detecting and reporting any fraudulent activity lies with employers, who are liable for £7,000 fines per worker as a punitive fine for employing unauthorised foreign nationals, even through the use of sub contractors. Penalties for not properly carrying out checks can extend to the disqualification of directors.
This has led to a growing requirement for recruiters to confirm applicants’ documents, ensuring that they have not been tampered with, are valid and up-to-date, and in the hands of the legitimate owner. This, in turn, has increased the innovative use of technological capability within background checking firms and a consequent rise in the number of UK businesses outsourcing their employee screening needs.
In response to this influx of foreign workers, one of the latest industry developments offers a scanning service to verify, log and track identity documents issued by governmental organisations or regulatory bodies. With most HR departments lacking specific knowledge about all the differing security features each country uses on their passports and visas, this service plays an vital part in the verification of information from a wealth of foreign sources. These solutions confirm the validity, integrity and status of documents such as passports, driving licences, work and residency permits and professional certificates. Such solutions offer obvious advantages for security and compliance to the NHS and the wider health industry, where security and the need for confirmed identity is paramount.

Speeding up the checks
In an age where we are all increasingly time poor, the future of employee screening will see a more ‘user generated’ service based upon online directories to allow recruiters real-time access to job applications and applicant details. Reducing the need for paper applications will increase the efficiency of background checking and also allow for a more time effective response, something that will be very welcome in the health industry.
Efficient and accurate recruitment decisions will be made more frequently, thereby reducing the risk involved with past recruitment procedures.
Online services such as this are now starting to launch across the UK, providing a more flexible service specific to each industry sector and company involved. Background checking of staff is being increasingly outsourced, a trend that is set to continue. Professional candidate screening companies will become an integral part of recruitment across all industries, gradually building an increasingly accurate database of information which will have significant ramifications for those in the fast-paced health industry.

Internet history
The future of background checking in the health industry may also be heavily influenced by the increasing popularity and volume of online social networking sites. Such sites are beginning to be labelled as ‘career suicide’ due to the increasing likelihood that online checks will be carried out during both pre- and post-employment screening checks. Background checking of potential and current staff will help to pick up on flippant comment, messages and inappropriate content online, making employers more aware of their perception amongst staff.
Many health industry employers now look at reference to their business within such sites as an extended representation of their company – and even the smallest negative depiction from a current or ex-employee can have a huge impact on how their organisation is perceived. With the increasing use of employee screening outsourcers, there is nowhere to hide from detrimental Internet history.
Perhaps more significantly for imminent security threats, employers have a well-founded right to be concerned about the security risks of social networking sites. Personal information is readily accessible to unknown third parties and the threat of identity theft is indeed very real. Security breaches or potential IT system infiltration by a virus or criminal gang as a direct result of staff accessing these sites at work is a very serious concern that needs to be addressed by those holding important private patient or client data.
Workers at a Kent hospital have recently been banned by their employers from using social networking websites. Medway NHS Trust employs more than 3,550 people and the Trust’s chief executive, Andy Horne, commented: “We reserve the right to limit access in any way we deem necessary, and maintain a strict policy of correct and acceptable Internet usage.”

In a recent survey1 highlighting alarming levels of dishonesty amongst the British workforce, 87 per cent of those questioned said that if they knew companies thoroughly checked all CV details, it would act as a deterrent to falsifying any information. Yet 66 per cent of people do not believe that employers thoroughly check the details on all CVs and job application forms, so the Internet really is providing another means of evaluating the suitability of job applicants and present staff alike.
Social networking is just one of the modern phenomena that the health industry needs to keep abreast of to ensure that it improves and maintains internal security. With the increase in foreign workers within the health sector, the importance of vigilant background checks will soon be apparent. Open borders and an increasing demand for locum and temporary staff will raise the risk of employing inappropriate staff if the correct measures are not taken.
These risks are only set to grow in the future, and the health industry needs to take careful steps to ensure employee screening becomes a regular and thorough activity. The future of the background checking industry will provide increasingly easy access to such services, but it is important that the potential risks are recognised sooner rather than later.

1 The survey was completed by Experian’s consumer research service, Canvasse Opinion, where the views of 1,003 UK working adults (18+) were surveyed during February 2007.
Steve Bailey is managing director of employee screening agency, an Experian company.