A recent court case in Croydon has highlighted the need for all organisations, irrespective of size, to thoroughly background check the skills, qualifications, and experience of anyone applying for jobs. The Croydon case involved a woman who managed to secure a senior position within the NHS, after lying about both her academic background and work experience.
Back in December 2019, NHS Croydon advertised a vacancy, looking for someone to organise and deliver programmes for patients requiring urgent care within their area. Although not essential, the NHS stated that a Masters level qualification would be preferable, and extensive experience in a similar role was required. The position was given to Chanelle Poku, who said she had a Master’s degree in biology, and that her previous position was heading up a large charitable organisation. After just a few months in the post, it became clear that Ms Poku’s performance was not up to scratch. Investigations revealed that she didn’t have the academic qualifications she had claimed, her references had been written by herself or friends, and that her previous work experience in the charity sector was in street fundraising, not in any leadership role.
The NHS prosecuted Ms Poku, who was found guilty of fraud by misrepresentation and sentenced to 12 months in prison. She was also required to repay her salary to the NHS.
Guarding Against Fraud by Misrepresentation
On the surface, it is fairly shocking that someone with no qualifications and experience managed to talk her way into a senior NHS position, even at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic was starting to take off and management attention was perhaps elsewhere. But the fact that she managed to secure employment does flag up some serious issues and show where the NHS failed in its screening policy for new hires.
Firstly, the academic qualifications. It’s well known that applicants often lie or exaggerate their skills on CVs. For qualifications awarded by institutions in the UK, employers can use the HEDD database to verify what an applicant is telling them is true.
It is also clear that reference checking was not done effectively, as this should have caught the fact that Ms Poku was writing her own references. A simple phone call to previous employers to verify job title and employment dates would have caught the lies. Similarly, something went seriously wrong at interview, if someone with no qualifications and experience was able to convince a panel that she was the right person to be looking after care packages for seriously ill patients.
Implications for Your Business?
Fraud on this level might be unusual, but it’s a cautionary tale for anyone involved in recruitment. Nobody wants to go through an expensive legal battle to get rid of an employee who has lied their way into position. All of this stress, time and expense can be avoided by implementing a robust screening programme for new hires, whether you manage that yourself in-house, or pay for an external agency to do it for you.