Managers are not referring staff to a controversial vetting scheme amid widespread concern over its “interfering” approach.

Since last October, employers have had a legal duty to report staff posing a risk to children or vulnerable adults to the Independent Safeguarding Authority, through the vetting and barring scheme.

This isn’t an ‘if’ or a ‘maybe’, there’s a legal obligation

But ISA chief executive Adrian McAllister told HSJ that he could “count on one hand” the number of NHS referrals since then, despite the fact that it was receiving up to 450 a month in total.

As reported in HSJ, there have been significant fears that managers considering referring an employee will be forced to make moral judgements about people’s lifestyles.

This is partly due to the criteria used to decide whether someone may pose a risk, including questions as to whether someone suffers from “emotional loneliness” or thinks they “deserve sex”.

Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence chief executive Harry Cayton has said the scheme would bring an undue “level of interference into people’s lives”.

This week, Healthcare People Management Association president Kelvin Cheatle said such anxieties, added to low awareness of the scheme, could be behind the referral numbers.

“Employers think this is going to be a very painful process,” he said.

Mr McAllister acknowledged the concerns but said: “This isn’t an ‘if’ or a ‘maybe’, there’s a legal obligation.”

He sought to reassure employers about the process, saying the ISA did not “go trawling around looking in people’s backgrounds” or expect managers to “go on fishing expeditions into people’s private lives”.

Information would arise in the course of normal investigations by employers, Mr McAllister said.

There has been criticism the behaviours and attitudes used to assess staff is based on a process for identifying paedophiles.

Mr McAllister responded: “It was drawn up in relation to potential harm to children but is transferable. There isn’t quite the same evidence base in respect to vulnerable adults. That’s rather a shame.”

The ISA is working on a better template, he said. He highlighted the advantages of the scheme, such as allowing surgeons to move between hospitals to carry out emergency surgery on children without having to go through repeated Criminal Records Bureau checks.

He also confirmed fears that the ISA will be able to overrule decisions made by the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence and professional regulators such as the General Medical Council, but said this would happen in “relatively few” cases.

Guidance for employees on when to refer is due to be published in the next month.

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