Background information on the employment checks standards

Background information

This section provides you with background information about the NHS Employment Check Standards including: 

How the standards originated

In May 2002, the Department of Health (now the Department of Health and Social Care) issued a mandate outlining six primary checks which all NHS organisations within England must undertake when appointing individuals into NHS positions.

While the mandate describes an employer's legal duty to ensure safe and robust recruitment practices are in place, the NHS Employment Check Standards more specifically focus on assisting employers to practically consider and implement the requirements. The key function of these requirements is to help employers seek the necessary assurance that individuals are of good character and have the appropriate experience, qualifications, skills and competency to properly and safety perform the tasks required of them in any given role.

The standards were first introduced in March 2009 and are subject to periodic review to ensure they accurately reflect changes to legal and regulatory requirements as they evolve.

We work closely with the various parts of the system such as the Department of Health and Social Care, Care Quality Commission, Disclosure and Barring Service, NHS Protect and the Home Office. We also work closely with our employer networks to ensure consistency in understanding and approach, and share best practice.

Who the standards apply to

The standards apply to all appointments in the NHS. This includes those engaged in paid work (whether on a permanent, fixed-term or zero-hours contract) and temporary workers, such as locum doctors, those working on a trust bank and workers supplied by an agency or other third-party contractor). The standards also apply to those undertaking unpaid work in the NHS such as volunteers, trainees, students, and those on work experience.

How to ensure safe and effective employment check processes

  • Checks are most effective if they form an integral part of local policies and procedures for the recruitment, hiring and training of employees.
  • It is strongly recommended that the overarching responsibility for pre-appointment screening falls to one department, such as HR, to ensure consistency and fairness in approach.
  • A dedicated manager or senior member of staff should lead the process to ensure that checks and protocols are followed and information is retained and shared appropriately.
  • Individuals must not be appointed until all the necessary assurances are obtained to ascertain their suitability for the role in question.
  • The type and level of check undertaken must be appropriate and proportionate to the risks associated with any given role.
  • Monitoring the diverse characteristics of your workforce by asking voluntary questions in relation to gender, disability and ethnicity as part of your recruitment processes remains justifiable and can be utilised to tap into a more diverse talent pool.
  • Employers must ensure that any agencies or other external staffing and service providers they contract with have robust appointment processes which meet with the same high standards as those required if appointed directly by the organisation. Assurances should be obtained as part of routine auditing and monitoring of those providers.
  • In all cases, recruitment policies and practices must be fully compliant with data protection, human rights and equality laws.
  • To avoid discrimination, employers must treat all job applicants in the same way at each stage of their recruitment process.

Regulatory compliance

All NHS providers are required to register with the Care Quality Commission. As part of this registration providers are required to comply with the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (Regulated Activities) Regulations and the Care Quality Commission (Registration) Regulations (as amended).

These regulations outline a set of fundamental standards which must be met, including the need for providers to have robust recruitment and employment practices in place to ascertain a person's fitness and suitability for the job they are being appointed to do. Employers will be able to demonstrate that they are meeting the relevant regulatory requirements in this regard, by evidencing compliance with the NHS Employment Check Standards.

These employment check requirements are also firmly embedded in the national framework agreements for agencies (such as those issued by the Crown Commercial Service) to ensure the appointment of contracted and sub-contracted workers meet the same high level of standards required in the NHS. The overarching responsibility for assuring the appropriate screening of workers has been conducted sits with the employing organisation. Employers must therefore seek the necessary assurances that agencies and third party staffing or service providers they contract with, have robust and effective appointment processes which are aligned to the NHS Employment Check Standards. Assurances should be sought through any scheduled auditing and monitoring of the provider's operating procedures and should be an intrinsic part of any contractual arrangements.

We would strongly recommend that any contractual agreement with an agency or third party staffing or service providers should clearly outline:

  • The level and type of checks that may be required for different NHS roles.
  • That the provider will not receive payment for their services unless it can provider the necessary assurances that all workers they supply (including sub-contractors) have undergone a robust screening process aligned to the NHS Employment Check Standards.
  • That the provider will be held liable for any financial penalties that may be imposed, should it subsequently be discovered that workers they supply have not been appropriately screened.
  • That the contracting organisation (e.g. the employing NHS body) retains the right to audit the provider's operational and employment checking processes at any time, to seek assurances of compliance with requirements.
  • That the provider must inform the contracting organisation immediately if a worker has been placed (for any period during their time at the NHS body) under disciplinary procedures/has been dismissed/has been arrested for a criminal offence or any other similar offences.

More information about seeking assurances on compliance, in relation to employment checks for temporary workers and contractors can be found on the NHS Employers website.

The NHS Employment Check Standards are subject to periodic review to ensure they remain up to date with any new legal requirements and are fit for purpose.

Where you prefer to download hard copies of the standards, it will be essential to regularly refer to information on this website to ensure you don't miss any important updates and remain compliant with legal requirements as they evolve.

Any changes to the requirements are published on the latest news section of this website and in the NHS Workforce Bulletin.

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