NHS recruitment fraud risks

This page provides advice and guidance for the NHS on how to mitigate the risk of recruitment fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who is this guidance for?

This guidance on this page is for leaders, Local Counter Fraud Specialists and staff working in NHS recruitment, human resources and administration. The guidance provides awareness to senior managers and staff of the most prominent recruitment fraud risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are the risks?

Whilst the NHS and government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic is evolving, we know that criminals will take advantage during times of crisis. The NHSCFA’s immediate concern is the relaxation of recruitment rules and practices to allow NHS bodies to hire and monitor staff who will then work inside health bodies.

It is important that managers and staff remain alert to the possibility of:

  • Applicants providing false documents as evidence of identity
  • Applicants providing false documents as evidence of experience
  • Applicants providing false documents as evidence of right to work
  • Applicants failing to declare previous criminal convictions
  • Applicants providing false documents relating to qualifications and/or registration
  • Applicants providing false documents relating to employment history, professional practice or continuing professional development

What should you do?

Leaders and fraud experts in the NHS administering emergency programmes should review the government guidance on ‘Fraud Control in Emergency Management: COVID-19 UK Government Guidance’ which details imminent threats to the public sector and which is particularly applicable to recruitment fraud. The general principles for effective fraud control in the document should be considered, and some of the basic points are reiterated here:

  • Accept that during the Covid-19 response period there is a greater risk of fraud, and that it is very likely to happen.
  • Ensure you integrate fraud prevention measures into the policy and process design to build awareness of fraud risks.
  • The policy and process team should work together with the fraud prevention team to implement low friction countermeasures to prevent fraud risk where possible
  • As soon as practicable, carry out targeted post-event assurance to look for fraud, ensuring access to fraud investigation resources.

These general principles should be considered when any new policy or process is designed. Guidance in relation to pre-employment and recruitment checks is outlined below.

Recruitment guidance during the pandemic

NHS Employers has previously produced six NHS Employment Check Standards that provide guidance on the type and level of checks employers must carry out before recruiting staff into NHS positions. NHS bodies will be familiar with these standards. The NHS Counter Fraud Authority also provides guidance on risks in recruitment and how to mitigate these in our payroll fraud guidance. Both these resources provide guidance on fraud prevention considerations for staff recruitment.

In response to the current crisis, NHS Employers has also published Covid-19 guidance for NHS workforce leaders which considers the exceptional circumstances and unique pressures that dealing with the epidemic is placing on the NHS and how these may impact on measures to prevent fraud in recruitment. The guidance addresses a number of areas, including specific advice on Pre-employment checks and assurance and new measures introduced to assist the NHS in responding to the pandemic. The relevant areas are linked below:

The following is a summary of that guidance.

Verification of original documents

The verification of documents supplied by the applicant may be impacted for reasons out of the employers’ control, such as being unable to check with institutions which are closed due to Covid-19. The following principles should be followed:

  • Where reasonably possible, follow the normal checking guidelines. NHS Employers have guidance on what constitutes acceptable documentary proof in the appendix of their Identity Check standard.
  • Where urgency is a factor, employers may accept scanned and emailed copies of original documentary evidence and these must be retained on file.
  • The applicant must present the original versions of these documents as soon as is practicable.

Identity checks

Identity checks remain crucial to fraud prevention in recruitment, but also because it is very important from a patient safety and employer liability perspective. It is the employers’ responsibility to ensure the person interviewed is the correct candidate. As always, where possible the Identity Check standard should be followed. However, the following principles apply where urgency due to the crisis is a consideration:

  • Where the interview is conducted by video conference, employers must ask the individual to send the following by email:
    • A photograph of one form of personal identification
    • A photograph of one form of confirmation of address
    • A current image of themselves
  • The employer should record the date that the checks were undertaken and retain the provided documentation for future verification to the Identity Check standard.

Right to work checks

Employers should seek assurance as to a candidate’s right to work at the same time as conducting the identity checks, as outlined in the Identity Check standard. The main difference in relation to the current situation is where the applicant has a non-EEA visa permitting work or has applied to the EU settlement scheme. NHS Employers recommend the use of the Home Office online portal to verify right to work in these circumstances.

Criminal record checks

NHS Employers advise employers should seek to obtain a self-declaration form as per the current guidelines. Where the applicant is subscribed to the DBS update service or provides a pre-disclosed DBS check from a previous role, any decision on whether to accept these should be undertaken through a risk assessment as outlined in the DBS guidance for employers.

Additional measures have also been introduced in response to COVID-19 (with further guidance on DBS arrangements during the COVID-19 response available on the GOV.UK website):

  • A fast-track check is now available to check against the children’s or adults barred lists where the role demands.
  • In relation to standard and enhanced without barred list checks, employers may risk assess allowing individuals to start work or volunteer prior to the full disclosure being received.
  • Where staff are asked to take on additional or different duties, employers should risk assess whether a new DBS check is required.

References and employment history

Employers always have a duty to ensure that their staff member is suitably qualified to undertake the role that they have been employed for. The NHS Employers standard on Employment History and Reference Checks reflects this. The amended guidance in response to the current crisis is as follows:

  • Employers should seek at least one reference from the individual’s current or a previous employer either via email or by phone.
  • Where the reference is obtained by phone, a written account should be made and the referee asked to confirm this is an accurate reflection of their reference. This must be retained.
  • Where existing staff are moving within the NHS, the Electronic Staff Record or other personnel system may be used to confirm relevant factual information.
  • Where no reference is available for whatever reason, employers will need to risk assess any recruitment decision on information available from other checks.

Other resources

As mentioned previously, besides the NHS Employers standards, NHSCFA’s wider advice is available in our payroll fraud guidance.

You can also find information and definitions for the different types of fraud affecting the NHS in the NHS Fraud Reference Guide.

How to report fraud

Report any suspicions of fraud to the NHS Counter Fraud Authority online at https://cfa.nhs.uk/report-fraud or through the NHS Fraud and Corruption Reporting Line 0800 028 4060 (powered by Crimestoppers). All reports are treated in confidence and you have the option to report anonymously. You can also report fraud to your nominated Local Counter Fraud Specialist.

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