Fake CVs are a problem in the NHS. But, unlike Alan Sugar, the service cannot afford to ignore it, says legal expert Philip Farrar

When Lee McQueen lied on his CV about the length of time he had spent at university, he was apparently doing what many other job applicants who have gone before him have done. Not only did The Apprentice candidate receive the support and sympathy of many viewers, but he went on to win and secure the job as Sir Alan Sugar's new star recruit.

Contrast this, however, with the spectacular fall from grace of Patrick Imbardelli, who resigned as chief executive of InterContinental Hotels' Asia Pacific unit when it was discovered he had falsely claimed holding three university degrees. (You might have thought one would be enough.)

When it comes to recruitment, honesty is not just the best policy - it is a legal obligation.

There is a world of difference between job candidate who exaggerates their annual two-week break in Magaluf as a "love of worldwide independent travel" and someone who claims to hold qualifications relevant to the job on offer when they do not. However, dishonesty should have no place in a successful employer-employee relationship, particularly where such misrepresentations are material to the contract. There must be trust and confidence on both sides and where there is a breach of that trust the law can, and should, be used to protect the employer.

The problem of exaggerated or false CVs is seen as particularly prevalent in the health service, with some trusts failing to carry out the necessary checks on prospective employees, leaving themselves vulnerable to employing applicants with fake qualifications. A survey by the screening service NDF Associates, using the Freedom of Information Act, found that a third of the 40 NHS trusts polled had identified health workers who had used fake CVs.

The implications for employees who lie on their CV are potentially very serious and perhaps even more so for many NHS employees, because of the nature of their work.

The General Medical Council sets out the professional standards a doctor must meet, one of which is a duty to be "honest and open and act with integrity". The principle of trust is central to the healthcare profession and fundamental to the patient/doctor relationship. It is essential that this trust is maintained and deserved, and consequently any abuse of such trust is taken very seriously indeed.

Juamer Baldar was a case in point. For several years Dr Baldar told a series of lies on his CV about his medical education and previous employment history. The NHS Counter Fraud Service discovered that the information on his CV contradicted the information he gave to the GMC and he was charged with numerous counts relating to fraud against the NHS. He pleaded guilty to 10 counts of deception and was sentenced to 15 months in prison. He was also ordered to pay a fine and was struck off by the GMC.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council will act similarly. In December 2007, a nurse was struck off and banned from working for falsifying her references when she had applied for a job with an NHS trust. This nurse had been employed at the trust since February 2004 and after the NHS Counter Fraud Service received an allegation that the nurse had falsified a reference from her former employer, an investigation revealed that she had been turned down for other jobs because of poor references from a previous employer. She therefore photocopied headed paper from that employer and persuaded a friend to fill in the reference when applying for the NHS post. Such problems are not confined to healthcare staff. A former NHS trust chief, Neil Taylor, lost his position for claiming to have a degree when he did not.

Employment consequences

If the job applicant's fraud or misrepresentation is discovered before employment, it is very likely that the trust will withdraw the offer of employment. If the fraud or misrepresentation is discovered after employment has begun, a variety of approaches can be taken. It might be seen as either misconduct or a serious breach of the implied term of trust and confidence.

To assist employers, trusts should make it clear in their appointment literature that false claims of any description on CVs or in selection processes could lead to such action. If the employee has the necessary service, they can challenge a dismissal as unfair and the tribunals will look at the context in deciding whether dismissal was reasonable. In certain cases, especially where there are false claims of qualification, the deceit may amount to fraudulent misrepresentation, making the contract void.

Professional consequences

The most severe consequence for many healthcare professionals in these circumstances is to be struck off. This is a real possibility as the abuse of trust goes to the very heart of the profession and represents a serious departure from the relevant professional standards. The GMC lists dishonesty as one of the behaviours that would justify erasure from the profession and it says that such behaviour is fundamentally incompatible with being a doctor.

Such actions could also amount to a criminal offence; namely committing a fraud by false representation or by failing to disclose information. Conviction can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

CV tips for employers

  • Ask candidates to sign a written declaration to confirm the truth of their application

  • Identify information from the candidate that is being relied upon in your offer of employment

  • If qualifications or history are important for the role, check that the information provided is genuine

  • Always check references carefully

  • Ensure that policies and practices are applied evenly so as to avoid unlawful discrimination

  • Remember employers are required to check certain elements on applications, such as the ability to work in the UK lawfully, CRB checks and, where relevant, professional registration