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. We will work closely with the various bodies and employers to ensure normal checking procedures can be resumed as soon as is reasonably practical once the impact of the winter period can be better predicted. Updates will continue to be disseminated through the NHS Employers website and scheduled communications. 

Q4. Who has responsibility for obtaining pre-employment checks on temporary workers recruited through an agency? 

Employers may pass responsibility for obtaining checks to recruitment agencies or other third-party staffing providers they may work with. The NHS organisation receiving the worker must make any check requirements expressly clear in any agreement it makes with an agency or third-party staffing provider. Regardless of any agreement, the NHS organisation responsible for the patient care or services being delivered retains overarching responsibility to ensure all temporary workers are suitable and safe to carry out the duties of any given role and measures to manage and monitor temporary workers should be agreed and implemented.

Q5.  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 on an internal staff bank are called on to support the pandemic 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. 

Organisations who are currently working with NHS England and NHS Improvement in piloting the Covid-19 digital staff passport may also have agreements in place to share relevant information to help enable staff movement. In all cases, employers should be extra vigilant to ensure that any additional or new duties do not change the type or level of checks required or, where they do, appropriate checks are taken.

Q6. What is the NHS staff passport? 

A COVID-19 digital staff passport is currently being developed and tested by NHS England and NHS Improvement in conjunction with NHSX and a reference group of NHS HR leaders. The passport creates an embedded license to attend agreement and stores verified credentials securely on the staff member's smartphone. 

The enabling staff movements toolkit and new passporting solution will help NHS organisations move staff safely, quickly and without unnecessarily duplicating check requirements or core skills and induction training. It is crucial the system is robustly tested to ensure it meets expectations and is safe to use for both employers and staff members. Once testing is complete, the passport is expected to be fully rolled out for all NHS organisations. Further updates on the staff passport will be made available on the NHS Employers website once we have clarification from NHS England and Improvement.  

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

The type and level of checks required on retirees returning to practice will depend on the route they are appointed through.

Those returning to the workforce under NHS England and Improvement's returners scheme will have undergone a range of checks when they first expressed an interest to return. 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 practice, and that they have the necessary DBS clearances for the role they are being deployed to do. 

A letter will have been issued by the relevant NHS England and Improvement regional hub to confirm what checks and clearances have already been obtained. Where this can be presented, employers may accept this as assurance. Additional checks will only be required where there are any gaps in assurances gained.

Individuals directly approached by the employing organisation will need to be checked in the usual way.

In all cases, employers must take all necessary measures to assure themselves that the person presenting themselves is who they say they are, and clearances match and relate to that person. 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 documents may be done via a video conferencing call as described in Q8 below. It must be recorded on file (e.g. ESR) that the check has been undertaken remotely.

Q8. Do we need to see original documents to verify an applicant's identity, right to work and DBS checks? 

We have worked closely with the Department for Health and Social Care, Home Office and DBS to ensure practical measures are adopted to ensure the safe checking of identity, right to work and DBS check applications during the pandemic.

From 30 March 2020, provisions were put in place to enable employers to:

  • 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 on file (eg ESR) that they have undertaken an "adjusted check undertaken on [date] due to COVID-19.

The online checking process does not negate the need for employers to see and verify original documentation. Any requests to verify original documentation must be conducted at the earliest practical opportunity, for instance when the individual comes in for induction, training or on their first day, which ever is soonest.

Employers must continue to meet the requirements outlined in the identity check standards the NHS Employers website to ensure all measures are taken to prevent identity fraud. Further guidance on meeting compliance with Home Office right to work and DBS application requirements can be found on the respective sections of the Gov.uk website.

We are currently in discussion with relevant bodies and employers as to whether the interim measure may be helpful to retain beyond COVID-19 as an effective way of speeding up recruitment processes and enhancing assurances gained. Further information will be made available on the NHS Employers website at the earliest opportunity.

Using video conferencing for interviews

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

Yes, face to face interviews may be conducted on the proviso that arrangements are fully compliant with the latest Government rules about social distancing. Employers must also be mindful that individuals may feel unsafe in meeting face to face during the pandemic or may be required to self-isolate or stay in quarantine when interviews are to take place, therefor an online interview will need to be offered to accommodate.

Online interviews have also proved effective where recruiting from other geographical areas or overseas and where attending a face to face interview may be impractical or may lead to delaying the recruitment process unnecessarily.

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?

See Q8 under "compliance against the six check standards" above. 

Employers must refer to Home Office guidance on the Gov.uk website to ensure they continue to be compliant with any temporary measures and understand when these might cease as the pandemic evolves. 

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?

Yes, new fields to record EU pre and settled status were released by Electronic Staff Record (ESR) on 31 July. This functionality includes the ability to record EU settlement status using the following options: 

  • pre-settled
  • settled
  • unknown/not declared.

HR teams will also be able to record the date status was issued by the Home Office, expiry date (for pre-settled status) as well as temporary leave to remain should the UK transition out of the EU without a deal. Further information about the new functionality can be found on the NHS Employers website.

Q4. How can we continue to comply with employment check requirements when recruiting individuals from overseas who may need to go into quarantine when they enter the country?

Ensuring compliance with the NHS employment check standards remains essential during the pandemic. The temporary measures introduced in March 2020 are intended to help facilitate some of the checks that might otherwise become problematic during this time, including where individuals may need to self-isolate or are coming into the country and who may need to go into quarantine during the recruitment process. 

How to meet compliance against each of the six requirements is outlined in COVID-19 temporary pre-employment checks section on the NHS Employers website. In addition, we have provided guidance on:

  • Using online video conferencing
  • Online verification of documents as outlined in Q8 above, under the section on "compliance with the six check standards". 

Criminal record checks

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

The free DBS fast-track check against the barred list(s) applies in England and Wales only. The check must only be obtained if the following criteria is met:

  • individuals are specifically being appointed to deliver pandemic-related treatment, care or services. Including individuals appointed to backfill where staff in those roles fall ill with pandemic-related illnesses or are required to self isolate

  • any such role would normally be eligible for an enhanced with barred list check. Including regulated healthcare professions and other roles which are not regulated, such as hospital porters transporting patients who have pandemic-related illnesses 

  • a full enhanced disclosure is obtained at the same time

For all other non-pandemic related recruitment, employers must obtain a DBS check through the normal route and usual fees will apply. This is to ensure the DBS can flex to give priority to support employers to safely meet workforce needs as the pandemic evolves.

Once the fast-track check have been received and it shows no barring relating to the individual concerned, employers may appoint them into a regulated activity with adults and/or children. Appropriate safeguards must be put in place to supervise and manage the individual until the full disclosure has been received.

Further considerations may need to be made once the full enhanced disclosure has been received and employers must put appropriate measures in place to deal with any issues that may arise.

Further information about eligibility and how to apply for fast track checks 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.

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.

Many organisations already have local policies in place that require either three-yearly periodic DBS checks, or subscription to the DBS Update Service.

Employers must take a risk-based approach when considering previously disclosed information and in determining whether a new check might be 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 new role requires a different type or level of clearances, then a new DBS check must always be obtained.

Q4. We'd like to set up a volunteer group to work in the community, do we need to ensure our volunteers need a DBS check?

The Disclosure and Barring Service has produced a useful factsheet outlining potential eligibility and safeguarding tips where setting up volunteer groups to work in the community. This can be found on the Gov.uk website.

It is vital to remember that while volunteers can still provide care or help to a vulnerable person, they must avoid all non-essential contact and adhere to current social distancing restrictions. Full guidance on keeping safe during COVID-19 can be found on the Gov.uk website.

Q5. 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.

Q6. If appointing military personnel, can we accept their military service record instead of a DBS check?

Yes. If an applicant states that they are currently serving in the Armed Forces, then employer can ask for and accept an extract from their military service record instead of requiring an overseas police check (if serving overseas) or 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 would need to be considered in the same way as a criminal conviction or caution in a DBS check
  • Serious convictions for disciplinary offences (non-criminal conduct) are more likely to be specific to action or behaviours that may be a crime under military law but would not be considered as such in civilian life. Any such information should be treated differently to convictions and cautions and may be something employers consider as part of their overall assessment of suitability.  

Further 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 Services 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.

It is important to note that the temporary registers are time limited. Professional regulatory bodies retain the right to close them with little or no notice, as the pandemic evolves. Employers are advised to check the individual professional regulatory body websites to ensure that the temporary registers are still effective. We will do our upmost to update employers on when temporary registers are likely to close so that any implications can be managed.

Q2Do the quarantine exemptions announced on 22 May 2020 apply to all regulated health or care professionals being recruited from overseas?

We have received a number of questions from you about the application of the quarantine policy announced on Friday 22 May.

We have raised these issues with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) with a view to seeking more clarity on how the exemptions are intended to apply. To confirm, the exemption from self-isolation (quarantine) applies only to a registered health or care professional travelling to the UK to work. This could include, for example, a member of staff who had previously left the UK to visit family and who is planning to return as soon as is possible. 

To qualify, those entering the UK will need to be able to provide evidence that they are due to start work within 14 days and have professional registration. 

The government will be publishing the full detail of the regulations shortly and we will provide an update through our scheduled communications and website as soon as this is available. Additional detail on travel can be found in the Guidance for British people travelling overseas during the COVID-19 pandemic.

References and employment history

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

While some organisations are requiring staff to work remotely, this assumes that they will continue to have access to a work email address. References, wherever possible, should continue to be obtained through HR or personnel departments and be asked for and sent using a legitimate work email address. 

We do, however, 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 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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