Urgent reassurances must be given by the Belfast Health Trust over patient safety after it emerged two care workers had been treating vulnerable residents in their own homes without criminal background checks being completed, a former health minister has demanded.
The call was made after a random check of 20 staff files at Connected Health Domiciliary Care Ltd by a health watchdog found domiciliary staff had been working without being properly vetted.
A standard Access NI check, which must be carried out for people working with children or vulnerable adults, discloses an individual's full criminal record, including spent and unspent convictions from the Police National Computer. References for staff were also missing from files. The basic breaches have been described as "shocking" by the former health minister Michael McGimpsey.
The errors emerged during an unannounced inspection by the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority (RQIA) on October 15 at Connected Health Domiciliary Care Ltd. It is understood it provides care for around 200 adults.
It also revealed that no references had been received for one staff member nor had identifcation been checked. None of the 20 staff files contained a statement from the registered provider/manager confirming that the person was fit for the work.
The RQIA issued a Failure to Comply Notice and described it was "concerning" that some staff had been working with people for a "significant period of time before this matter was identified". Former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey described the situation as "extremely worrying".
"I'm astonished that this has arisen. Access NI was brought in to protect vulnerable children and adults and here we have a situation that this basic check hasn't been undertaken," he said.
"I'm not saying the staff in question are posing risks - they were probably doing a good job, but the fact is this is a serious loophole and a gap in the protection of the residents. The Trust need to give assurances now for everybody that they are employing and that every single check will always be completed."
Aidan Hanna, chair of Patient First NI, called for urgent action by the Trust. "The RQIA must be commended for acting swiftly on this occasion by issuing a failure to comply notice immediately," he said.
"We would expect all Health Trusts that allow their patients to be cared for by Connected Health commence a safeguarding vulnerable adults investigation and issue a letter to all the patients and their families to assure them that this will never happen again."
Following the inspection Connected Health is required to develop a "robust system" to ensure that no care worker is supplied by the agency unless full information is available.
It was also ordered to carry out a complete audit of all existing domciliary care workers pre-employment records and all action must be achieved by January 12, 2016.
The Belfast Trust said: "The Belfast Trust have been made aware of the outcome of RQIA's inspection. We are working closely with RQIA to address these issues to ensure the delivery of safe and effective care is being provided to services users and their families."