Despite recent concerns about possible terrorist activities among NHS staff, there is guidance that will assist with confident recruitment from abroad, says David Lock

The NHS has always depended to a greater or lesser extent on medical, nursing and support staff who are trained abroad. The numbers vary between specialties, with surgery at the lower end and a high number of psychiatrists having trained abroad, but there is very little doubt that the whole system would have ground to a halt years ago without the help of staff from abroad.

However, allegations that foreign-trained doctors were involved in recent terrorist events in London and Glasgow, and tabloid reactions to these allegations, are in danger of casting a shadow over other professionals.

So how do employers guard against irrational prejudice but still ensure that they take rigorous steps to vet staff in times of heightened security?

It is hardly open to human resource managers to start an interview in a McCarthyite fashion - 'Are you or have you ever been a member of an Islamist terrorist cell?' - and in fact the much greater danger for NHS managers is that qualified foreign-trained staff will be turned down for spurious reasons, precipitating discrimination claims.

It is worthwhile remembering that the equality and diversity policy continues to apply notwithstanding recent events.

NHS Employers publishes practical guidance to recruiting foreign staff on its website, covering the areas you would expect: check the identity of the person who stands before you by making sure you see originals of passports, and so on. Require production of original degree and postgraduate qualifications, not copies. Is the visa in order? Do a Criminal Records Bureau check even if someone says they are coming into the country for the first time, and see if they have ever worked in a country where the CRB has reciprocal arrangements.

Beyond the obvious checks, there is little that the NHS or any other employer can do to anticipate the behaviour or actions of qualified professionals but they can be open to receiving information and ready to take appropriate action.

What should NHS managers do if they receive information that a staff member is a potential terrorist? This would not be information about strict religious observance, which is not grounds for suspicion, but concern that extremist views may lead to extremist action.

In general there are no legal duties on the public to assist the police or pass information on to them but it is different for terrorism, where legal duties to pass on information may arise.

Those working in the NHS are, however, much more likely to be concerned that they may breach a legal duty of confidence by passing information to the police, or open themselves to libel proceedings.

Those fears are largely without legal foundation. Data controllers are entitled to pass on confidential information if it may assist in detecting serious crime.

Provided the information is passed on without malice, ringing up the local special branch will not open an NHS manager to libel proceedings. Information given to the police is confidential and will remain confidential unless and until a decision is made by the Crown Prosecution Service to prosecute someone. So there should be no bar to sharing legitimate information about serious concerns with the police.

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