Staff Passporting within the NHS

Moving between NHS organisations traditionally results in staff, bank workers and HR teams having to repeat time consuming, yet important form filling, pre-employment checks and statutory and mandatory training. There has long been a call for some form of a ‘passport’ across the NHS.

Sounds simple, yet previous attempts have had limited success because of the technical, legal and cultural complexities of widespread adoption. In short, getting everybody to agree to precisely how employees are checked to an acceptable quality, how their data is consistently and securely stored and transferred and having the legal framework to underpin who does what, and, who accepts what, has been a significant challenge.

To encompass all of the various methods and numerous local initiatives looking to overcome these issues, the term 'passporting' has been adopted. Passporting is used to describe the method, process or system to enable the transfer of staff records or data from one person or one organisation to another. This section sets out some of these passporting initiatives and how NHS England and NHS Improvement, working in partnership with NHSX, are looking to create a safe, effective and vibrant marketplace for digital identity and digital passports.

Current staff passporting solutions:

It is worth noting that all passporting solutions have their limitations, so choosing the right passporting solution to meet the specific user need is important.

COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport

For the first time the COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport establishes a clear national legal underpinning framework, with clarity over legal obligations and indemnities. It also establishes a consistent approach to the data that is passported between organisations, so that it can be trusted and reliably used. It uses leading edge cybersecure technology that places the verified record into the hands of the worker themselves, via a digital wallet or app on their smartphone.

The COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport provides the required legal underpinning to share staff, but, as a national solution may not cover all the local arrangements or agreements that may be required by the three parties involved. Where bespoke terms or additional paperwork is required, this can be put in place between the parties in addition to and alongside the core terms in the digital passport. These should clarify the role of the parties, over and above those outlined in the standard terms and conditions of the passport and all parties should agree to these, e.g. any pay variation or local car parking arrangements.

The COVID -19 Digital Staff Passport currently provides the best solution to enable staff to be quickly and temporarily be deployed across NHS organisations and be set up, ready to work, quickly and safely but it is only to be used where staff are shared to support the response to COVID-19 and or the recovery period. So it is important that the alternative passporting approaches are also understood.

Workforce Sharing Agreements (aka MOUs)

The Enabling Staff Movements Toolkit provides a summary, important guidance and legal clauses for any organisations in England that want to share staff. This is particularly useful when sharing staff with organisations outside the NHS family because the legal framework for such sharing does not yet exist nationally.

A Workforce Sharing Agreement, in the form of a tripartite set of terms and conditions, is embedded into the COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport. This provides the required legal underpinning framework for movements between NHS organisations registered to use the passport.

Electronic Staff Record (ESR)

The NHS Electronic Staff Record (ESR) is the workforce system for the NHS in England and Wales, which holds the employment details of 1.2 million NHS staff. ESR enables NHS organisations to hold the verified data they need to evidence new and existing staff are compliant with the requirements for their job role.

Whilst the ESR solution is used across the NHS each NHS organisation has its own protected area, called a Virtual Private Dataset (VPD), which allows data to be securely held by that organisation and not accessible by others. With a highly mobile workforce moving from one NHS organisation to another or holding multiple roles in different NHS organisations, helping to improve the onboarding processes and reduce data inputting is vital. As such, the following features can be used to help passport information:

  • ESR Inter-Authority Transfer (IAT)

    ESR has an automated tool, which takes a pre-defined data set, known as the Portable Data Set, and copies this from a previous employer to their new record in their new employer. This is called the Inter-Authority Transfer, or IAT. You can click here for more information on ESR IAT.

    The IAT works when staff are applying for a new role and become an ‘Applicant’ in ESR. The IAT process can be initiated to enhance a new Applicant record in ESR using the previously verified record from a previous employer, thereby saving the new employer and the new starter time. Information, such as employment checks information, national competencies and immunisation and vaccination information, as long as the previous employer maintained a complete record. NHS organisations should maximise the potential of the IAT process by ensuring data is complete, accurate and up to date within ESR.

    Further personal and employment history details can then be copied to the person record upon their start date.

  • ESR Self-service

    ESR Self Service enables staff to securely login to ESR themselves, to view their ESR record. Employee Self Service gives staff the ability to view their payslips, complete e-Learning and manage their statutory and mandatory compliance, whilst they are able to make sure their personal information, such as address, are kept up to date.

    Whilst the employment checks undertaken as part of the hiring process are not visible in ESR Self Service, individuals can view their own talent profile which evidences their professional registrations and compliance against the competencies required to do their job, including from the Core Skills Training Framework (CSTF).

    This talent profile can be converted to a pdf file and emailed to HR as a form of evidence of their current employment and competencies, adding to the employment checks information held in the COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport.

    For this option to work successfully, ESR self-service must be switched on by the employing organisation issuing user names and passwords to staff. In addition, employees’ competencies and learning need to be included in the Learning Management System module of ESR. Support to upload national competencies into ESR from another Learning Management System that the Employing organisation uses is available.

    Read about how Grace uses ESR Self-Service to access her staff record


Most NHS employees carry with them an NHS smartcard which gives access to the NHS e-Referral Service (e-RS) and some other workforce and patient systems. Currently some organisations are accepting this smartcard, alongside local workforce sharing agreements (see above).

Whilst the workforce sharing agreement provides a legal underpinning for the temporary deployment and the smartcard provides some evidence of identity, the COVID-19 Digital Staff Passport provides a much more safe and secure passporting solution for NHS organisations to transfer staff. 

This option can only be used successfully for smartcard users.

Establishing a marketplace for Digital Passports and interoperable workforce systems

Looking ahead NHS England and NHS Improvement, in partnership with NHSX, want to establish a standards-based marketplace of interoperable workforce systems that support digital passports.

The aim is to use the Health Solutions Support Framework (HSSF) to engage the market and establish a choice of solutions for NHS organisations that support user requirements and meet agreed data and interoperability standards. This framework will enable NHS organisations to use a call-off contract to select the workforce solutions that best suit their needs.

If you have any questions about passporting or have passporting solutions to offer, then please contact us on