Editorial Comment: Nine months of limbo

It’s a sad truth that we must always be incredibly vigilant in protecting vulnerable adults from a small minority of staff employed to support them.

To this end the Department of Health launched a blacklist of care staff two years ago to which employers forward the names of staff they deem to have abused or neglected vulnerable adults in their care.

Providers are obliged to use the Protection of Vulnerable Adults scheme (Pova) for pre-employment screening. Those named are banned from working in social care, even if they are only provisionally listed, and they have to wait nine months before a care standards tribunal determines whether their names are either removed or confirmed.

This wait was challenged by a judicial review last week. It concluded that banning provisionally listed staff from working in the  are sector without a hearing was unfair and disproportionate, and sets a brave precedent.

The speed, or lack of it, at which tribunals are convened needed challenging. The financial and psychological damage of being provisionally added to the Pova list is unacceptable.

Three of the four nurses involved in this case had their listings removed, and the fourth’s case is due to be heard at tribunal. They join over 620 of their care staff colleagues who have been through the same torturous process.

There are other problems. Across the public sector, we have seen numerous examples of employers settling scores with staff – who are often whistleblowers – through such disciplinary proceedings. Why should this system be any different? An independent view should be introduced at the outset.

And, during a time of severe staff shortages, a slow regulatory system should allow for those facing less serious allegations to continue working with close supervision, or in restricted roles.

Building more checks and balances into the regulation of social care staff will foster a more progressive and transparent culture around standards and in turn help to promote, not compromise, the important job of protecting vulnerable adults.

With Pova to be absorbed within a cross-sectoral vetting and barring scheme in 2008, policed by an independent board, these lessons need to be learned. Responsibility for regulating social care professionals should reside with the General Social Care Council – to have parallel systems would create complexity and confusion.

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