The red tape that stopped me from volunteering to sit with the dying

(A guest post by Linda Hughes) Every now and then, the whole country is seized with a moral panic. Common sense and logic fly out of the window.

Following the Soham murders of two 10-year olds in 2002, paedophile school caretaker Ian Huntley was found guilty of their murders and jailed for 40 years. The tabloid press went to town. In the prevailing climate of moral panic, the government asked civil servant Michael Bichard to report and make recommendations about child protection. Bichard recommended the setting up of the Independent Safeguarding Authority (ISA).

The Bichard Report was published on 22 June 2004 and made 31 recommendations, of which recommendation 19 called for a new registration scheme and stated:

“New arrangements should be introduced requiring those who wish to work with children, or vulnerable adults, to be registered. This register – perhaps supported by a card or licence – would confirm that there is no known reason why an individual should not work with these client groups…”

BUT: Within two years, by December 2006, Sir Michael was writing in the Sunday Times magazine that:

“…We had not thought the amount of people caught in this would be in the region of 11m to 12m. It’s true that you can produce what appears to be a sensible policy and the implementation of it makes it look a lot less attractive.”

It was too late. Pandora’s Box was well and truly open. Every organisation that employed, worked with, or associated in any way with children and vulnerable adults insisted that those workers had Criminal Record Checks (now Disclosure, Vetting and Barring registration).

Volunteer groups were immediately affected. Volunteer numbers began to drop. Volunteers did not want to have to go through laborious vetting and recruitment processes.

Over a decade later, the problem is worse than ever. In January, the Nursing Standard polled their members. In one year, the number of nurses saying that they no longer had time to care for the dying had risen to two thirds.

I asked my local hospital if I could spend a few hours each week, sitting with those who were dying – in order to free up nursing staff. It seems to me to die alone is an appalling indictment of our society.

I already have a recent Enhanced DVB check. I was a Primary Carer for five years. I also cared for my mother and stepmother in their final years. I am a volunteer for Devon Carers. I have undertaken volunteer roles all my life and have also worked for the NHS.

In order to undertake a volunteer role for my local hospital, however, I could not transfer any of my credentials. I needed to:

– Get another DVB check;
– Complete a full application form process, including references:
– Be interviewed;
– Have an Occupational Health check;
– Be trained in Health and Safety – and take other courses, including in how the Hospital Trust worked; (as a volunteer of long-standing, just how many times do you need to be trained in ‘Diversity’ or ‘Health and Safety’?)
– Be trained in Infection Control

The whole process takes between three and six months. It costs a fortune and is a moneyspinner for the ISA.

And that is why the campaign run by the charity Helpforce and the Daily Mail last December failed to gain more than 5% of the ‘pledges’ people gave to volunteer in the NHS. They gave up. If you wanted to help in your local hospital at Christmas, you didn’t want to wait until Easter to be ‘Recruited’.

Time and again, I hear potential volunteers tell me that they just won’t go through the ‘recruitment’ process that is put in place by so many organisations in the public sector.  They don’t understand why it is necessary, when a ‘check’ is purely something that shows someone hasn’t (yet) been found out.

The NHS is now desperate to use volunteers to plug the gaps in their nursing workforce. One in ten nurse posts lies vacant. And the number is growing. But even now, is there only a very slight recognition at the coalface that – maybe – volunteers neither need all those ‘checks and training’. Perhaps they could ‘Passport’ their DVB registration and ‘credentials’ from another organisation?

The whole process is ridiculously flawed and is all about unwillingness to take any risk. I don’t suppose I will win this argument. It will be won by the usual crowd of ‘Safeguarders’, who prefer box ticking laws, rules and regulations – to trusting their fellow human beings and applying common sense, and good supervision.

Evil characters will always be with us, but we don’t have to believe that everyone is guilty, until we have a box ticked to show they are ‘innocent’. Which – as has been shown on numerous occasions – is simply untrue.

We need to get rid of box-ticking and get back to learning how to work with, and manage, people.