On 17 March 2020 the Government released details of emergency legislation, the coronavirus bill, which will be presented to the House of Commons imminently and become law by the end of March.

The Act will be time-limited to two years and will allow the UK government and devolved parliaments and assemblies to switch on and off the powers within it as they will be needed to respond to the pandemic. The government state that the measures in the bill are temporary, proportionate to the threat faced, will only be used when strictly necessary and will be in place for as long as required to respond to the COVID-19 situation.

The bill is seeking to achieve five key things:

  1. Increasing the available health and social care workforce through removing barriers for recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work.
  2. Reducing burden on frontline staff by reducing administrative burdens on frontline staff, both within the NHS and beyond.
  3. Managing the deceased with respect and dignity by enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services.
  4. Delaying and slowing the virus.
  5. Supporting people to claim Statutory Sick Pay from day 1 (not 3) and supporting the food industry to maintain supplies.

To achieve the above, and relevant to the health and social care providers are:

  • Changes will be made to the Care Act 2014 in England (and social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014) to enable local authorities to prioritise the services they offer so they can meet the most urgent and serious care needs. Importantly the Government is stating that Local Authorities will be expected to continue to comply with their duties to meet the needs of individuals and “would not remove the duty of care they have towards an individual’s risk of serious neglect of harm.” The powers would only be used if Local Authorities were at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties because of the pandemic.
  • To allow NHS providers to delay CHC assessments for patients being discharged from hospital until after the emergency period has ended.
  • Health and social care regulators will have powers to emergency register healthcare professionals/social workers e.g. recent retirees or students near the end of their training.
  • To relax timeframes under the Mental Health Act and have only one doctor’s opinion (rather than two) will be required to section and detain an individual in an emergency.
  • That a coroner will only be notified where a doctor believes there is no medical practitioner who may sign the death certificate and to remove the requirement that any death into COVID-19 must be held with a jury.

The full guidance is available here.