Pre-employment checks during COVID-19 FAQs

COVID-19 FAQs

This page covers some of the most frequently asked questions that are being asked by employers following the announcement of new temporary pre-employment check arrangements for managing recruitment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It will be refreshed on a regular basis. 

If your query is not covered in the sections below, please email us at employmentchecks@nhsemployers.org including the words 'COVID-19' in the subject bar.

Compliance against the six check standards

Using video conferencing for interviews

Right to work checks

Criminal record checks

Professional registration and qualification

References and employment history

Compliance against the six check standards

Q1. How have these arrangements been developed?

The temporary arrangements have been developed in partnership with relevant bodies across the system, including the Department of Health and Social Care, Home Office, Disclosure and Barring Service, NHS England and NHS Improvement and the Care Quality Commission, to ensure what’s required continues to meet legal and regulatory requirements in ensuring safe patient care and services.

Q2. Who do the temporary arrangements apply to?

The temporary arrangements apply specifically where employers are recruiting additional staff to support or backfill during the COVID-19 emergency. This includes directly paid staff, temporary workers, those returning to practice (retirees/paid volunteers) and volunteers (unpaid). 

All other recruitment that is not directly related to providing emergency support will need to checked in compliance with the pre-existing NHS Employment Check Standards.

Q3. When do the temporary arrangements cease?

The temporary arrangements will continue for the duration of the pandemic emergency. There will also need to be a recovery period. Further notification will be issued through the NHS Employers website and scheduled communications to advise on when normal checking procedures will be resumed.

Q4. Where can I find out more information about what we need to consider when appointing volunteers?

Our section on volunteers provides some useful information about how to attract and recruit volunteers to support during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes links to volunteer role descriptions and training packages being developed by NHS England and NHS Improvement, and how organisations can continue to support those who are already volunteering across the NHS.

Q5. Who has responsibility for obtaining checks on temporary workers recruited through an agency? 

Employers may pass responsibility for undertaking pre-employment checks to an agency or other third-party provider supplying temporary workers to the NHS. However, the overarching responsibility to ensure all workers are safe and suitable to carry out the role they are being appointed to do, sits with the NHS organisation responsible for the patient care or services being delivered. 

To avoid any unnecessary delays in making appointments, the NHS organisation receiving the worker must clearly outline the type and level of checks required for any given role in their contracting arrangements with the agency or third-party staffing provider.

Q6.  What checks are required for bank workers who may already hold a substantive role in the same organisation or in another NHS trust? 

If individuals are taken on to provide additional support through an internal staff bank and they already hold a substantive position either elsewhere within the same organisation or in another NHS trust, then the employing organisation may wish to check what assurances have already been obtained to avoid any unnecessary duplication of checks or clearances. For example, this may include information held on the electronic staff record (ESR) or other relevant personnel system, or the staff passport, which is being developed by NHS England and NHS Improvement (anticipated to be rolled out May/June). Where relevant assurances can be gained through these routes, any need for additional checks will be dependent on whether the new or additional duties require a different type or higher level of clearances than those originally obtained for the substantive role. 

Q7. What checks do we need to undertake when appointing healthcare professionals through NHS England and NHS Improvements return to practice scheme?

Retirees who have expressed an interest in returning to practice under NHS England and NHS Improvement’s returners scheme will have undergone a range of checks. These checks will have obtained assurances that the individual is registered with the appropriate professional regulatory body, that there are no issues about their suitability and fitness and/or licence to practise, and that they have the necessary DBS clearances appropriate to the role they are being deployed to do. 

A letter will be issued by the relevant NHS England and NHS Improvement regional hub outlining the type and level of checks and clearances obtained. Where this can be presented, employers may accept this as assurance. 

Employers must take measures to assure themselves that the person presenting themselves is who they say they are, and clearances match and relate to that person. As a minimum, we would recommend that employers ask individuals to present one form of photographic personal identity from a trusted source, such as a passport, driver’s licence or NHS smart card when they first start work or at induction, whichever happens soonest. 

All assurances must be recorded and retained on file. If the individual will only be required to work remotely (i.e. from home) then the verification of the photographic personal identity document can be done via a video conferencing call as described in our guidance on verification of identity. The record on file should indicate that the check has been undertaken remotely.

For information about retirees returning to practice please refer to the NHS England and NHS Improvement website.

Using video conferencing for interviews

Q1. Can we still carry out face-to-face interviews?

Where it’s absolutely safe under the government restriction guidelines on social distancing, then employers may choose to continue to have face-to-face interviews. We would suggest that this option should only be considered where it might otherwise be impractical or impossible to conduct interviews remotely. Employers must also respect that individuals may feel unsafe or uncomfortable in meeting face to face during this time, or have problems accessing transport.

See guidance and a top tips resource in our section on using video conferencing to conduct interviews, which may be helpful in ensuring these run as smoothly and effectively as possible.

Right to work checks

Q1. Do we still need to seek original copies of a person’s proof of right to work?

As of 30 March 2020, the Home Office made temporary adjustments to their guidance on right to work checks. This is to make it easier for employers to undertake checks during the pandemic. From this date and until further notice, employers can:

  • conduct checks as part of a video call
  • ask applicants/existing workers to send scanned documents or a photo of documents for checking using email or a mobile app 
  • record that they have undertaken an 'adjusted check undertaken on [date] due to COVID-19' to ensure they retain their statutory excuse.

Further Home Office guidance about these changes, how temporary measures should be applied and what to do if individuals cannot provide the necessary documents, can be found on the Gov.uk website

Q2. How can I keep up to date with temporary arrangements being introduced by the Home Office and what documentary assurances we may need to obtain?

A number of changes have come in to play which will impact on overseas recruitment and what you may need to do either as part of the temporary pre-employment check arrangements or to enable you to retain healthcare workers who may have limited leave to remain. 

Our section on overseas skilled supply provides the latest information about visa extensions and changes to the application process and includes information about arrangements for language and skills testing for overseas trained professionals entering the temporary professional registers.

Q3. Following the Home Office decision to extend visas for certain professional roles, will there be functionality within ESR to record this?

We are currently exploring ESR functionality with the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) and will update employers in due course. To avoid triggering the reminder notifications built into ESR, employers may find it useful to identify members of staff whose visa expiry date is before 1 October 2020 and extend this as indicated in the Home Secretary’s statement on 31 March. 

Criminal record checks

Q1. Who can we obtain fast-track checks for?

A DBS fast-track check applies to roles in health and social care in England and Wales. It should only be obtained where:

  • individuals are providing treatment or care in relation to COVID-19, including those who may be asked to backfill to cover pandemic-related absences such as sickness
  • any such role would normally be eligible for an enhanced with barred list check, including healthcare professionals who are registered with a professional regulatory body and other roles which are not regulated, such as hospital porters transporting patients. 

It is important to note that the fast-track check only provides assurances that an individual is not barred from working with adults and/or children as may be relevant to the role. It does not remove the employer's responsibility to obtain a full enhanced disclosure, which should be obtained at the same time. 

It does, however, enable employers to appoint into regulated activity with adults and children where appropriate safeguards have been put in place to supervise or manage the individual until the full disclosure has been received.

Both the fast-track check and full enhanced disclosure for eligible positions will be free of charge. Further information about eligibility can be found on the Gov.uk website.

Q2. Can we obtain a fast-track check for other roles that would normally be eligible for a standard or enhanced without barred list check?

No. There is currently no equivalent fast-track check for roles that would normally only be eligible for a standard or enhanced without barred list check. However, new legislation enables employers to take a risk-based approach to allow individuals to start in post where appropriate safeguards have been put in place to supervise or manage the individual until the full disclosure has been received.

Further information about different NHS roles and their eligibility for a DBS check can be found on the NHS Employers website.

Q3. Can we accept a previously issued DBS check that has been obtained for another role?

Employers have always had the ability to accept a DBS disclosure that has been obtained for another role. Any decision to do so is discretionary and should be based on an appropriate risk assessment.  Many organisations already have local policies in place that require either three-yearly periodic DBS checks, or subscription to the DBS Update Service. In the case of the former, employers may take a risk-based approach when determining whether a new DBS check is required. Where individuals are subscribed to the update service, employers may seek the individual’s permission to carry out an online check using this service instead of requiring a new DBS check.

In all cases, if the role requires a different type or level of clearances, then a new DBS check must always be obtained.

Q4. Can fast-track checks be used to subscribe to the DBS Update Service?

No. Applicants must not be advised to subscribe to the update service using a fast-track check. These checks should also not be added to an existing subscription. The DBS retains the right to de-link or cancel subscriptions, where a fast-track check has been added.

Q5. If appointing military personnel, can we accept their military service record instead of a DBS check?

If applicants state that they are currently serving in the Armed Forces, then employers can ask for and accept an extract from their military service record instead of requiring a DBS check. This should disclose any convictions or cautions the individual may have been charged with while serving in the UK or any other country (where the offence would be considered the same in the UK). 
If the expression of interest is from ex-military personnel, it is important to note the military service record will only be relevant up to the point they were in service. Employers should therefore take a risk-based approach to considering whether a DBS check may be required.

The extract must be original and issued by the force they are serving in. Where carrying out checks remotely, verification of the certificate should be obtained remotely as per our temporary identity check guidelines. Employers may require individuals to present the original document at induction or training.

Employers will need to be mindful that some criminal convictions and cautions that apply under military service law may not be regarded as such under civilian law, so will need to take  a proportionate approach when considering any such information. For instance:

  • Convictions and cautions relating to criminal conduct while serving in the Armed Forces are recorded on the Police National Computer (PNC) and employers should consider this type of information in the same way as they would a criminal conviction or caution in a DBS check.
  • Serious convictions for disciplinary offences (non-criminal conduct) would also be recorded on the PNC. However, this is more likely to include disciplinary action for behaviours that may be a crime under military law but would not be considered so in civilian life. These offences should not be treated in quite the same way as described above but may need to be considered as part of their overall assessment of suitability. 

In both cases, employers should only consider information that would be relevant to the role they are appointing to. 

Information about what constitutes as a disciplinary offence under military law can be found in Schedule 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Armed Forces) Order 1984 (Recordable Service Offences) Act 2009 which can be found on the UKSI website

Professional registration and qualification

Q1. How can I check the temporary registers?

Checks against the temporary registers should be obtained in the same way as checking the statutory registers, by going to the relevant professional regulatory body’s website.

Further information about how the temporary registers are intended to work, how to check the registers and how this may impact on a professional's revalidation or continued professional development, can be found via the following links:

Further information about how each of the temporary registers are intended to work can be found on our bringing staff back section.

For information about retirees returning to practice, please refer to the NHS England and NHS Improvement website.

References and employment history

Q1. Can we accept a reference from a personal email account?

While there is a request for some individuals to work remotely, this assumes that they will continue to have access to a work email address. Wherever reasonably possible, employers should continue to require references to be sent using a legitimate work email address in the normal manner. 

However, we do appreciate that in certain circumstances referees may genuinely only be able to respond to reference requests through their personal email account. For example, where they have been furloughed or their business/employer has been forced to close because of COVID-19. In these circumstances, employers may accept a factual reference from a personal account but must ensure information matches with all other information obtained during the application, interview and checking process.

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