Latest guidance on all the essential pre-employment checks will help ensure you bring safe and well-suited staff on board, says Sian Thomas

Everyone who works for the NHS should have first-hand experience of pre-employment checks: digging out passports, contacting past employers for references, trawling back through the files for education dates and details, and sweating through the interview. But consider the importance of the process itself - the first step to ensuring a safe and professional environment for staff, patients and the public.

NHS Employers recently published its revised pre-employment checking materials, creating a concise set of six standards to be included in time in the Healthcare Commission's assessment for the 2008-09 annual health check.

In clear, straightforward language, they take employers through the six stages of employment checks they must carry out for all prospective NHS employees: verification of identity, right to work, registration and qualification, employment history and reference, criminal record checks and occupational health checks. Any human resources department will tell you these checks are critical - but why?

Identity matters

Staff constitute the most important asset of the NHS and ensuring the people we employ are who they say they are is the most fundamental of all checks. The standards are clear that employers must check, through a face-to-face meeting, that the person in front of them is the same as the person on official photographic ID.

Only when you have established this can you have confidence in further checks to ensure prospective employees have the right to work in the UK, are registered with the relevant bodies and hold the qualifications needed to perform their role. Criminal record checks are used to safeguard patients, staff and the general public, while occupational health checks can flag up any additional support a prospective employee may need to fulfil the role.

The standards have embedded current HR good practice, such as checking at least three years of past employment with previous employers' HR departments, and ensuring all NHS organisations maintain the same high standards.

Less is more

In launching the NHS employment check standards this March, NHS Employers wanted to simplify and clarify the previous guidance on employment checks, which was a mixture of legal requirements, Department of Health policy and NHS good practice. We worked closely with stakeholders, including employers, lawyers and the DH, to provide a succinct set of mandatory standards to follow.

Your ability to provide the highest standards of patient care starts with your ability to recruit the best staff; this depends on having high standards in place as part of your recruitment practices. Getting employment practices right, from the start, has benefits beyond safety and security. Robust, transparent pre-employment practices send a clear message to prospective staff that you take your business and the safety of your staff and patients seriously. This commitment to safety sets a clear example for your staff to follow.

So while it might not be as headline grabbing as new treatments or hospital cleaning, pre-employment checking is the quiet achiever of good NHS HR practice. Robust procedures that are continually strengthened and improved mean patients, the public and NHS employees themselves can have confidence in the staff who treat them and the colleagues with whom they work.

The standards and FAQs are available at www.nhsemployers.org/employmentchecks