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Safeguarding through recruitment – best practice compliance

Ann Swain - APSCo

As any HR professional working in the clinical and healthcare sector will know, we are currently facing unprecedented pressures from a staffing perspective.

A recent survey of more than 20,000 nursing and midwifery staff by the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) found that more than a quarter of nursing staff say patients are being treated in the wrong setting. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of nurses working in emergency care reported clinical care taking place in settings such as hospital corridors, in the back of ambulances and in waiting rooms rather than on wards.

Beyond nursing, there is an acute shortage of doctors, allied health professionals including paramedics, physiotherapists, and radiographers as well as carers. While Brexit and the recent pandemic certainly exacerbated skills shortages, the profession has faced talent challenges for many years and the nature of the sector means that urgent and temporary demands often outstrip supply. In fact, Skills for Care has previously reported that the adult social care sector in England needed to fill around 112,000 job vacancies in any given day. In addition, a survey of more than 2,000 staff undertaken earlier this year found that more than half of respondents said they had considered leaving their job in the past 12 months, with one in five either actively looking for a new role or already leaving.

What’s more, over 70 per cent of staff taking part in the poll – from #WithNHSStaff, a joint campaign by 14 unions – said they were extremely worried about the impact of staff shortages on patient care. Recruitment is intrinsically linked to safeguarding, which is why a unified standard is absolutely vital in high-risk and talent short sectors such as healthcare.

It is against this backdrop that the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo) has developed its Compliance+ accreditation to provide an uncompromising quality benchmark for clinical and healthcare recruitment companies which compels members to go beyond statutory safeguarding standards and aim for excellence in competency selection and service quality.

Compliance+ is a set of best practice requirements for all temporary and permanent recruitment in the clinical and healthcare sector, which has been designed with NHS Frameworks in mind and goes beyond the statutory requirements. Recruitment businesses are audited to these best practice requirements on an annual basis by an independent professional, and Continuous Improvement is Required (CIR) in a number of key areas. The standard consists of ‘safeguarding’, which covers all safeguarding activities undertaken by recruitment businesses when providing any candidates into sector as well as ‘competency requirements’, which go beyond the safety of a candidate and look to ensure that recruitment businesses are providing the best suited and highest quality applicants for a particular post.

Best practice requirements around policies and procedures and candidate registration include evidencing eligibility to work in the UK, English competency, placement support, appraisals, and revalidation to ensure that HR leaders can quickly identify and secure the best people for their vacancies through working with accredited staffing partners.

The Compliance+ accreditation was constructed following extensive consultation with recruitment firms and external stakeholders including NHS Professionals, NHS Workforce Alliance, and Health Trust Europe (HTE). It has been produced to both safeguard vulnerable persons and benchmark recruiters against the highest service deliverables.

The concept of Compliance+ is not new – APSCo launched the initiative following the success of its Education and Social Work recruitment Compliance+ standards. In order to become Compliance+ accredited, staffing companies must pass a rigorous assessment process that is audited annually and demonstrate evidence that the firm is going above and beyond to provide clinical and healthcare employers with better-prepared, better-suited and better-trained candidates.

The new standard ensures recruiters are delivering more than the statutory safeguarding requirements. These include: formally and publicly committing to safer recruitment for candidates and clients; ensuring candidates on assignment have access to information on relevant subsidised training courses; providing 24/7 support to candidates on assignment and committing to work closely with HR teams to ensure candidates have everything needed ahead of a placement including staff handbooks.

The clinical and healthcare sector in the UK has been under immense strain for some time, a scenario that was pushed to breaking point during the pandemic. Make no mistake, the challenges that the NHS and other organisations currently face can not be solved through best-practice recruitment strategies alone. However, one of the greatest challenges in this highly regulated space is finding staff quickly and compliantly – without over-inflated costs from off-framework providers. That’s where APSCo’s Compliance+ accreditation will improve recruitment practices across clinical and healthcare.

This new accreditation sets the best quality standards, beyond the statutory safeguarding requirements, for recruitment businesses that operate in the clinical and healthcare sector. It establishes a compliance framework that safeguards vulnerable persons, and provides clients with safer, best suited, highest quality candidates. The Compliance+ standard presents both candidates and HR teams with an easy-to-identify accreditation that verifies the recruitment partner they are working with is fully compliant, has been annually audited by an independent third party, meets all safeguarding requirements and will provide the best-in-class services.

As Gary Snart, Sourcing Director of HealthTrust Europe LLP, notes, “Raising the bar on standards in compliance for healthcare remains both critical and fundamental to the delivery of safe patient care across the UK. Embedding robust policies, processes, governance, and auditing to ensure employment checks, safeguarding checks, mandatory training, counter fraud, regulatory and contractual requirements of supply are consistently met, gives healthcare providers the assurance and confidence they need to engage the supplier community openly”.

Today, patient safety and staffing levels are both under threat. In fact, eight in 10 (83%) nurses have admitted the staffing levels on their last shift were not sufficient to meet patient needs, while NMC data showed that more than 25,000 registered nurses left the register last year alone.

It has never been more crucial, then, to ensure that healthcare recruitment is not only swift, but also beyond compliant. The recent case of the woman who forged a license to successfully obtain employment as an anaesthesiologist in Germany may be extreme, but it does illustrate how individuals can slip through the net when policies and procedures aren’t watertight. Compliance+ gives recruitment businesses the framework within which to provide HR teams with better trained and therefore safer candidates.

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