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Ministers agree to tighten criminal checks on overseas NHS staff

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The government has agreed in principle to tighten up criminal checks on overseas nurses and other healthcare workers.

The Home Office today published its response to a review of the criminal records regime in England and Wales by the government’s independent advisor on criminality information management Sunita Mason.

Ms Mason published initial findings from her review in February, and followed them up today with 10 further recommendations in a second report.

Many of her earlier recommendations – including the opportunity for NHS employees to review information held about them and measures to allow certificates to be reused for different employers across the NHS – have already been accepted by ministers and included in The Protection of Freedoms Bill.

Ms Mason’s review is designed to improve the much maligned CRB checking process. She described her proposals as “common sense”.  

Recommendations published today include a government review of the cross-government strategy for improving international exchange of criminal records.

This includes “seeking agreements to allow the CRB to obtain criminal records from a person’s country of nationality where the applicant and employer request this as part of the CRB disclosure process”. 

Ms Mason criticised the current system of checks. She said if “an employer in the elderly care sector decides to appoint an applicant for the role of male nurse who has recently arrived from abroad and presents a blank CRB certificate…the employer would be unaware [if] the preferred applicant had recently been released from prison for a string of violent offences in his own country”.

The government agreed that the current strategy for international exchange of criminal records would be “reviewed and updated”.

In response to a specific call for international agreements to be put in place to obtain overseas criminal records, it stated: “We are already working towards a pilot of such an arrangement with Australia.”

Other recommendations published today include defining a criminal record as “all convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings which are recorded in police records”, and increasing awareness of systems for individuals to access, challenge and correct their own criminal records.

However, the government did not accept two of the report’s recommendations.

It rejected calls for individual eligibility for checks to be scaled back. It also said that, while it accepted the principle “that there should be clear timescale for the police to make decisions on whether there is relevant information that should disclosed”, it did not accept that “the certificate should be issued at the end of a defined period”.

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