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January 17, 2020
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Lewisham and Greenwich Trust scrutinised over sharing patients' data with Experian

A decision by Lewisham and Greenwich Trust to hand over patients’ personal data to a credit reference firm was slammed by committee members in Lewisham on January 15.

Before the activity was exposed by the Health Service Journal, the trust had been using Experian to run UK checks for patients’ credit footprints to see if they were eligible for free treatment. According to a report by the BBC's Local Democracy Reporter attached to Newsshopper.

The NHS provides free healthcare to anyone who is a legal resident of the UK but is required by law to charge migrants or “patients who are not ordinarily residents in the UK” since a coalition decision in 2015 to tackle ‘health tourism’. 

If no digital footprint was found the trust would do further checks and in certain cases go onto to issue charges. 

The information shared with Experian included a person’s name, address, date of birth, NHS number, email and phone number, and was run on every patient referred to the trust.  

But people were unaware their data was being shared with the third party, sparking a backlash that has led to the trust setting up an independent enquiry and cutting ties with Experian.  

In a statement, the trust stressed that: “Experian do not carry out credit checks on Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust’s patients.  

“No credit footprint is left on anyone’s credit report as a result of this process.” 

Although the trust had a notice on its website about sharing some information with non-NHS organisations, the issue the enquiry will investigate is whether patients were adequately notified about it.  

The external review will look at all data sharing processes that are in place at the trust.  

Jim Lusby, director of integrated care and development at Lewisham and Greenwich Trust, spoke to the healthier communities select committee about the steps that had been taken in the wake of the scandal.  

He said the reason the trust took the decision to check everyone was to do it in a “non-discriminatory” way.  

“In hindsight it was not the right choice […] in all honesty I struggle to defend the logic of this,” he told the committee. 

He said the trust was “complying fully” with the investigation.

But councillors refused to let the trust off lightly, with one saying what it did was akin to “spying”.  

The tension between Lewisham being a sanctuary borough and migrant charges was also raised at the meeting.  

A representative of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign described the move to charge migrants as “nasty, horrible”. 

She told the committee: “At the heart of this issue is a real hostility towards migrants, particularly undocumented migrants who are deemed to have no right to be here but are escaping war or economic troubles. 

“As a sanctuary borough we would encourage Lewisham and Greenwich Trust to put compassion, safeguarding, clinical priorities and professional standards at the forefront rather than an unbending interpretation of the law.” 

The representative, also a nurse, stressed the blame was not on the trust, as “it’s a Government directive”, but urged it to be aware of “young, vulnerable pregnant women” who are reluctant to seek care for fear of being charged.  

A recent Government report showed that three pregnant women died as a result of delays in seeking care, despite all three being eligible for free treatment. 

“They’re scared and they don’t come back. That’s two lives at risk. 

“As a pregnant woman you can have no symptoms and be in a life-threatening situation within minutes. Not coming back for care is really dangerous,” the campaign rep told the committee.  

It also emerged debts would follow patients around even if they became legal in the country.  

Chair Councillor John Muldoon said he was “disappointed” the Chief Executive did not come to the committee meeting.  

He said: “Bearing in mind that we are a sanctuary borough we are concerned about the impact that this has on our status, our political status as a sanctuary borough.  

“The committee was concerned to learn about the automatic testing of those attending Lewisham and Greenwich Trust by using the Experian database for their economic activity. 

“The committee disputes that that is a useful metric in assessing ordinary residence and remains unconvinced that adequate notification was given to patients.  

“The committee acknowledges the independendent enquiry and urges the independent enquiry to take evidence from witnesses from all stakeholder groups. 

“I am expecting a report back, possibly by the chief executive. The committee wishes to be informed as to current practice in assessing ordinary residence.” 

The issues raised have been referred to mayor and cabinet.

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January 14, 2020
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The story of how CSCS cards got a 21st century revamp

Most people who work in construction are familiar with CSCS cards.

They are used by the majority of contractors and clients to provide proof that those working on sites have the training and qualifications required for the work they carry out.

But not everyone will be aware that the recent introduction of an online application service, which marks the single largest operational change the company has undertaken since it was set up in 1995.

CSCS is the first to admit that, in recent years, applying for a CSCS card has not provided the smoothest of customer experiences and that the application process has been behind the curve when it comes to offering applicants a truly modern service. “Until recently, you couldn’t actually apply online,” says CSCS chief executive Graham Wren.

“You could get information on the CSCS website, but you were required to scan and email in your documents before making a lengthy telephone call to process your application and make a payment – a process that had its critics, particularly during busy periods when the service struggled to meet the expectations of the industry.”

Modernised service

The development of the online application system came at the same time as the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) ended its role delivering the CSCS contact centre after 20 years. In late 2017, the CITB formally notified CSCS of its intention to withdraw from delivering the service, a decision it took as part of the organisation’s Vision 2020 programme. CITB’s future vision involves focusing on fewer activities centred on its core priorities of careers, training and development, standards and qualifications.

“CSCS is extremely grateful for the contribution CITB has made to the success of the scheme,” Wren says. “Each year the CITB processed more than 400,000 card applications and one million contact-centre enquiries on behalf of CSCS. However, following CITB’s decision to exit the contract, it became our absolute priority to identify new and smarter ways of working that would deliver a first-class service to our 1.5 million cardholders.”

He adds: “Fortunately, there was a sensible notice period to exit the contract with CITB, so we used the time wisely to plan for the new service. Over the past two years, we have been working with a number of experts in contact centres and online services, and we have used this advice and guidance to design and build a modern service that is specifically designed to meet the needs of our applicants.”

The new service went live in early December and the process for applying for a card is now completely online, including payment. “The introduction of an online application service may not sound particularly revolutionary to many – after all, shopping online has been part of everyday life for a number of years now,” Wren says. “But to regular CSCS applicants, this is a significant improvement and one that many have been asking for in recent years.”

So what does this mean for CSCS card applicants? There are a number of benefits, whether that’s for those applying for the first time or simply renewing their existing card, according to the organisation.

 

“Online applications are faster than any other means of application,” Wren says. “It takes minutes to complete and, once your application has been approved, an electronic version of the card can be sent directly to an app downloaded to your mobile phone, with the physical card arriving by post within three-to-five working days.”

The web-based offering is also convenient and designed to fit around busy working lives. “Online applications are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round, and you can apply from a mobile phone, tablet device or PC,” Wren says. “The process is straightforward. You won’t need to send us hard copies of your documents and you won’t need to pick up the phone to make a lengthy call to apply. It’s also secure – your personal information and payment details are kept entirely confidential throughout the application process.”

Application support

The new service also includes a new contact centre, which users can call for support when making an application. “If people can’t find the information that they need, or they are having a problem, they will still be able to phone up and get the advice and support they require,” he says. “But we expect that once people get used to the online process, call volumes will reduce and it will serve as a help desk for the more complex applications.”

Another significant benefit of investing in an online service for CSCS is that it helps to tackle card fraud. Over the past few years, the organisation has made several high-profile changes that ensure construction workers hold the correct qualifications for the job they do on site. The most well-known of these was the withdrawal of the Construction Related Occupation card and the planned closure of the Construction Site Visitor card, which allowed non-qualified workers to access sites.

Now that the achievement of a qualification is essential for every application, a card has become significantly harder to obtain. Historically, in some cases you simply required the CITB Health, Safety and Environment test, which to an experienced operative required little or no study to pass. Today, applicants are expected to achieve a recognised qualification – usually an NVQ – which takes up to two years to complete.

Black-market operators

As a result, the card is becoming more attractive to those operating in the black market. “In recent times we have seen a significant rise in the number of fake certificates coming through our application process,” Wren says. “The fraudsters are producing high-quality fake certificates that look like the real thing, and if not identified by our application-processing team, a genuine CSCS card gets issued on the back of the fake certificate.”

To tackle this type of fraud, the new online system includes automatic electronic checks with the awarding organisations that own and deliver the qualifications. Eventually every certificate will be checked against the relevant awarding organisation’s database and if the result comes back as a positive match, then the application can progress. If the electronic check comes back with an issue flagged, then the system will suspend the application pending further investigation.

“So the instances of fraud based on fake certificates will be greatly reduced,” Wren says. “It will happen with every application rather than relying on a manual check carried out by a member of the CSCS team.”

With CSCS having now completed this digital journey, it is keen to stress that the new online application system delivers benefits for both applicants and the CSCS itself. On the one hand, using the service will be faster and more convenient for workers. On the other, it will help prevent fraud, resulting in improved standards and safety on site.

Further information on CSCS’s new application service can be found at www.cscs.uk.com/apply

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January 13, 2020
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Local councillors should have compulsory background checks - says local councillor

A local councillor has said that anyone elected to stand as a councillor should have a background check before being able to carry out their duties. 

Cllr Donna Greaves, a member of The Independents in St Helen's, UK said she has visited numerous schools and residents in their home since being elected last May, despite never being asked to undergo a basic Disclosure and Barring Service check.

As reported in the St. Helens Star, Cllr Greaves said she raised the issue with various senior council figures and during a Local Government Association training session for new councillors.

“When I was newly elected, it came as a shock to me that councillors do not have to be DBS checked,” she said.

“I raised this with the previous chief executive in July who said it was down to the councillors themselves to agree to this, which was later confirmed by the current leader, advising me it was being looked into.

“The general consensus is that you will probably become a school governor so a DBS check will be carried out then.”

Cllr Greaves has raised the issue again after carrying out a DBS check in preparation for becoming a school government. The council have however said there is no legal requirement for elected members to carry out a DBS check.

But Cllr Greaves says this needs to change, “My concerns here are not just about protecting the public we serve nor are they to be digging out passed misdemeanours of serving councillors,” she said.

“This is more about being open and transparent with the monitoring officer that should there be something that could be used to coerce, manipulate, persuade a councillor into acting differently when carrying out their duties then this needs to be disclosed so the monitoring officer can protect the councillor, the local authority and the public of St Helens.

“Surely there needs to be a moral standard that every councillor has been DBS checked to protect all parties, including the integrity of the local authority?

“Even with disclosures, a simple risk assessment on file will allow business as usual to take place but in an open and honest culture between the councillor and the monitoring officer.

“At present it is up to the councillors to decide if they want to introduce it – but I feel this needs to change”

A spokesman for St Helens Council said: “There is no legal requirement for an elected member to complete a DBS check as they do not carry out regulated activity when carrying out their role as a councillor.”

Image: Michael Heavey [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

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