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I also thank Mr Shannon and his colleagues for tabling the motion at this time, given the stage that we have reached with the issue. It is a hugely concerning matter. I have recorded delays of up to 20 weeks in getting an enhanced check through the process. That is clearly unacceptable. Not all the checks take 20 weeks, but delays exist. The provision of domiciliary care, nursing and residential care in nursing homes, hospital trusts, education boards, nurseries and playgroups, as well as in early-years provision, are being thrown into near chaos as a result of the delays.
It worries me more that when the undertaking was given that 90% of enhanced checks would be completed within four weeks, some of the service providers warned that that would not be possible with existing resources and procedures. Nothing was done to rectify the situation at that time, and that has created a huge gap in provision. I believe that the provision that was given when that undertaking was made was hugely misguided.
However, there is an opportunity to move the process on. Suggestions have been made that the situation will be resolved and that the four-week deadline will be reinstated by the end of the year. I hope that that is true, but given past history, I have grave doubts as to whether that will happen.
I understand that there was a temporary relaxation of the regulations sometime between 4 June and 25 July 2008. I am told that a further relaxation of those regulations came into effect from 21 August. I would like clarification at some stage as to whether that is accurate and as to whether those relaxations have occurred since 21 August. The relaxations should allow providers to get an indication of suitability from Access Northern Ireland from the initial checks that they perform. That organisation is provided with a list of unacceptable people. Service providers should be given the chance to see that list at the earliest opportunity so that they can decide whether they want to progress with the temporary employment of someone who applies for a job and who is not on the list and then put them under strict supervision. That would at least allow the issue to progress.
Another difficulty is that once a check has been completed, that person cannot carry that authority with them if they move jobs within a short timescale — they must go through the entire process again.
In one instance, one of my constituents made an application through AccessNI, but the job was filled in the meantime. The person got adequate provision from AccessNI and, within five days, was offered another job; but that individual was not allowed to take up that job, simply because the original check could not be transferred to a new employer. That really must be resolved; some sort of follow-up process should allow a check to be carried on to a new employer. Those issues could be helped and improved within a very short timescale.
We need to see an improvement in the service. The Minister has indicated that more staff have been put in place and have been asked to work longer hours to try to resolve the backlog. There must be clear answers; will the problem be resolved in the short term, before Christmas? If it is not resolved, providers will not be able to forward plan. If an employee at a local playgroup or nursing home gives a weeks notice, that vacancy cannot be filled. That is the difficulty, and I want it to be resolved as soon as possible.