Published: 30/06/2005, Volume II5, No. 5962 Page 34 35

Failing to carry out appropriate preappointment checks is one of the few areas that could leave human resources directors facing the sack.

The 2002 murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman by school caretaker Ian Huntley served as a harsh reminder of the need for scrutiny, and is leading to a tougher vetting regime across the country.

A bill announced in the Queen's Speech last month will implement the recommendations of the Bichard inquiry into the Soham murders and introduce a barring and vetting scheme to prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults.

NHS Employers has also published guidance for HR staff on how to vet potential employees.

NHS Employers senior business manager Gordon Fleck says one of the changes reflected in the new guidance is the turnaround in performance by the Criminal Records Bureau.

'In 2002 the CRB was in its infancy and having huge problems getting off the ground. So the directions did not require trusts to carry out CRB checks on all eligible posts. Instead it was left to the judgement of NHS employers, ' he says.

'If it had been made mandatory it would have made the CRB backlog far worse and there would have been chaos.' Today, the CRB is meeting service standards. From February it has been mandatory for CRB checks to be carried out on eligible new staff - that is any post involving access to patients in the course of normal duties.

This is not to say everything is perfect. There are still delays on 10 per cent of enhanced level checks. The turnaround should be four weeks.

Although CRB checks are mandatory in the NHS, they are not a legal requirement. NHS Employers guidelines advise HR departments to appoint provisionally rather than face a long wait for CRB clearance. 'During that period you must do an appropriate risk assessment and take management measures, ' adds Gordon.

Extreme caution, tempered with a good dose of common sense, seems to be the order of the day.

www. nhsemployers. org -www. cipd. co. uk