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New body to protect vulnerable adults and children

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A new body has been set up to help prevent unsuitable people from working with vulnerable adults and children, reports UNISON’s Sarah Peters

From March 2010, if you work or volunteer with children or vulnerable adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, you will have to register with the new Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA). A similar scheme is also planned in Scotland.

The development follows the findings of the Bichard inquiry, undertaken after the murders of two 10-year-old girls by a school caretaker in 2002 in Soham, Cambridgeshire. The ISA has been set up to replace List 99 - for staff working within education, the Protection of Vulnerable Adults and the Protection of Children Act lists. Unlike previous schemes, its register will be a ‘positive’ list, so anyone wanting to work or volunteer within the relevant fields must be on it.

That means over 11 million people will be required to register with the ISA - a massive undertaking. You will have to register if you come into regular contact with children or vulnerable adults - including older people, sick people and prisoners - or deal with sensitive education, health and social care records.

Many members of the wider healthcare team will need to be ISA-registered, including nurses, HCAs, ambulance crews, caretakers, cleaners and office staff. It will also apply to self-employed people or volunteers who work with vulnerable groups, such as childminders and swimming instructors.

If you are in paid work registration will cost £64 in England and Wales, and £58 in Northern Ireland. This one-off payment will cover your whole career in that field. Those involved only in unpaid voluntary activity in England and Wales or specified voluntary organisations in Northern Ireland and Scotland will be exempt from payment, but will still have to register.

Trade unions such as UNISON support protection of the public, particularly children and vulnerable adults. However, there are issues around the cost and process of registering and the transparency of the appeal mechanism for people deemed unsuitable to go on the register.

Most people who will have to register are women, many part-time, many low paid - and many the sole earners in their family. The cost of registration will be a significant proportion of their income.

Since registration will become a condition of work, UNISON believes employers should bear the cost of registration.

Lucia McKeever, a HCA from Armagh, says: ‘I’m a firm believer in patient care and public protection but as the main breadwinner in my household I’m worried that paying a registration fee will leave my family out of pocket. There is a danger we may lose good staff because they cannot afford to foot the bill for this new scheme.’

Many healthcare staff already pay to be on a professional register, such as the NMC or the Health Professions Council and face having to pay twice. It is not yet clear how the ISA will co-operate with existing regulators, raising additional concerns over potential double regulation for almost three million public service workers.

Eric Roberts, UNISON branch secretary and technician from London Ambulance Service is apprehensive:
‘Safeguarding is an important issue for both service users and staff. Professional healthcare workers must be accountable, but this new system is confusing. We will be answerable to two organisations, the regulator and the ISA. It seems a nonsense that the taxpayer will have to fund two separate investigations that could result in different outcomes.’

People starting work or moving jobs will be the first to go through the scheme, followed by the rest of the workforce over the next five years. From March 2010 anyone applying or changing jobs to work with children or vulnerable adults must be ISA registered - this had been planned for October 2009 but was recently rescheduled. It’s now believed to be coming into effect in the summer of 2010. Existing workers and volunteers will then be gradually placed on the register.

When it is time for you to register, you will be able to obtain a registration form from a variety of sources including the ISA, your regulator and your employer. Once registered you will be given a registration number and will remain on the ISA database, even if you change employer.

ISA registrants will be assessed using data gathered by the Criminal Records Bureau in England and Wales or Access NI in Northern Ireland. Once on the register, you will remain subject to ongoing monitoring. Data gathered will include relevant criminal convictions, cautions, police intelligence and information from other sources, such as employers and professional bodies.

If you have a record of unsuitability for working or volunteering with vulnerable groups or have committed certain serious offences, the ISA may not be able to register you. Instead you will be put on an ISA barred list - which has already replaced List 99 and the PoCA and PoVA lists - and may be prevented from working with vulnerable people, or be restricted to support roles.

It is anticipated that only applicants with serious convictions (including those of a sexual or violent nature) will be barred.

Some offences are deemed so serious that they will lead to automatic barring with no right of appeal.
Other offences may cause concern but not lead to an automatic bar. In this case the ISA will give you the opportunity to put a written case forward in your defence. You will be entitled to seek advice and representation from your trade union, and if you are barred following representations, you will have a right of appeal to the Care Standards Tribunal.

If you apply for a job with children or vulnerable adults when you know you have been barred, you could be fined or face imprisonment. Employers can also be charged with an offence if they employ an individual who is barred.

UNISON is leading a wide coalition of health and education trade unions to lobby ministers and the ISA to guarantee that the safeguarding process is robust and fair.

Gail Adams, UNISON’s head of nursing, says: ‘While it is essential that individuals who may pose a risk to vulnerable groups should be prevented from working with them, it is also vital everyone has the right to a transparent process, a fair hearing and the opportunity to defend themselves against any allegations.’

UNISON is also campaigning for employers to bear the cost of the register and for individuals who already have to register with a professional regulatory body to be excluded from the ISA scheme. The union is also seeking to ensure information held on the ISA database will be secure and that registrants can have confidence in the system.

‘Many staff will not know about these proposals, and they may have concerns,’ says Ms Adams. ‘The best way for them to get the information, advice and support they need is to join a trade union.’

UNISON will be providing members with more detailed information on the ISA scheme as it becomes available, including guidance on how to register and information on accessing representation.

Peter Atkinson, registered mental health nurse, Sussex

‘I’m a registered nurse so I have to pay £76 a year to the Nursing and Midwifery Council to maintain my nursing registration and already had to undergo a criminal record check. Now I’m also, apparently, going to have to register with the ISA in order to be allowed to keep doing my job.

‘My colleagues and I are writing to our local MP because we don’t feel it’s fair that as healthcare workers we should be another £64 out of pocket in order to finance the scheme. As a nurse I am, of coursed, 100% behind public protection, but it is totally unacceptable that we are, in effect, paying twice for this to happen.

‘My partner is also a nurse so we will be hit with a double whammy. We also have concerns about whether, if we are registered with the ISA, our personal details will be kept safe.’

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