As the Government works to contain the spread of the coronavirus outbreak, it is implementing a number of emergency measures including the Coronavirus Bill.
Increasing the available health and social care workforce
There is recognition at the highest level that the NHS and its staff will bear the brunt of what is a worsening situation with Covid-19.
For the NHS and its staff, there is inevitable prospects of staff shortages due to increased illness but at the same time an expected significant increase in admissions.
In an attempt to do what can be done to address this, the Bill will:
- enable regulators to emergency register suitable people as regulated healthcare professionals, such as nurses, midwives or paramedics. This might include (but will not be limited to) recently retired professionals and students who are near the end of their training. Registered staff can then be used appropriately, with decisions made on a local basis, to increase the available health and social care workforce and enable essential health and care services to function during the height of the epidemic
- enable regulators to temporarily add social workers to their registers who may have recently left the profession. This will ensure vital continuity of care for vulnerable children and adults
- enable employees and workers to take Emergency Volunteer Leave in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave and establish a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. This will ensure that volunteers do not suffer financial disadvantage as a result of performing a public good. Volunteers play a critical role in the delivery of health and social care services and are particularly important in caring for the most vulnerable in our society, such as the elderly, those with multiple long-term conditions or those suffering from mental ill-health
- provide indemnity for clinical negligence liabilities arising from NHS activities carried out for the purposes of dealing with, or because of, the coronavirus outbreak, where there is no existing indemnity arrangement in place. This will ensure that those providing healthcare service activity across the UK are legally protected for the work they are required to undertake as part of the COVID-19 response. This is in line with and will complement existing arrangements
- suspend the rule that currently prevents some NHS staff who return to work after retirement from working more than 16 hours per week, along with rules on abatements and drawn-down of NHS pensions that apply to certain retirees who return to work. This will allow skilled and experienced staff who have recently retired from the NHS to return to work, and also allow retired staff who have already returned to work to increase their commitments if required, without having their pension benefits suspended
Easing the burden on frontline staff, both within the NHS and beyond
The Bill will also seek to reduce the administrative burden on NHS and other frontline staff through:
- enabling existing mental health legislation powers to detain and treat patients who need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are a risk to themselves or others, to be implemented using just one doctor’s opinion (rather than the current 2). This will ensure that those who were a risk to themselves or others would still get the treatment they need, when fewer doctors are available to undertake this function
- temporarily allow extension or removal of time limits in mental health legislation to allow for greater flexibility where services are less able to respond. These temporary changes would be brought in only in the instance that staff numbers were severely adversely affected during the pandemic period and provide some flexibility to help support the continued safe running of services under the Mental Health Act
- allowing NHS providers to delay undertaking the assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare for individuals being discharged from hospital until after the emergency period has ended
- making changes to the Care Act 2014 in England and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to enable local authorities to prioritise the services they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met, even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full or delaying some assessments. During a pandemic, a lot of people who work in health and social care could be off sick or may need to care for loved ones. This could mean that local authorities, which are responsible for social care, may not be able to do all the things they are usually required to do