HUNDREDS of staff are feared to have been cleared to work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary without checks on whether they had a criminal conviction, due to a blunder by a private contractor.
Hospital operator Consort failed to carry out Disclosure Scotland background checks on staff working at Little France, the News can reveal.
The situation only came to light when NHS Lothian asked Consort to check the background of an employee and the firm was forced to admit it had never been carried out.
It is not known how many staff Consort failed to perform the checks on, but 580 new forms have been requested from the NHS.
Unions and patients’ groups today reacted angrily to the revelation, with Unison representatives claiming the issue was first raised five years ago over fears Consort had employed security guards with convictions.
Health chiefs have demanded an urgent review of their contract with Consort and said emergency measures have been brought in to ensure all privately contracted staff work is done in pairs as a precaution until new checks can be carried out.
The firm – which is paid £50 million per year to operate the ERI – said it was investigating a “lapse” in documentation.
Unison branch chairman Tom Waterson said: “We raised this at least five years ago when we found security staff with convictions as long as your arm.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable that we may now again have staff who shouldn’t be in contact with vulnerable patients.”
Margaret Watt, chairwoman of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “It is totally unacceptable that two people are going to have to be put on the same jobs because we don’t know if we can trust them.
“Consort has left our patients vulnerable and NHS Lothian needs to terminate the contract.
“There could be criminals or paedophiles working with young people in our hospitals.”
Not all Consort staff will be legally obliged to have the checks – depending on their contact with patients – but the NHS Lothian contract demands they do regardless.
The health board’s lawyers are currently investigating the extent of any contract breach.
It is expected to take four to six weeks to carry out the checks. Consort could face a major financial penalty.
Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer at NHS Lothian, told the Evening News: “We were surprised and disappointed to discover that Consort has not been performing the necessary checks on all their staff.
“This is in breach of our agreement and I have demanded an urgent review.
“Patients must be able to have complete faith in their safety in hospital and therefore we have insisted sub-contracted employees will work in pairs in areas we have identified as appropriate.”
A spokeswoman for Consort said: “Consort is investigating the reason for this lapse and is carrying out full checks.”
Lothians MSP Gavin Brown: “I’m deeply disturbed to hear about this news. It’s simply unacceptable Consort have behaved in this way.”