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25 March 2020

Coronavirus Act 2020 – health and social care response measures

Introduced by

Department of Health and Social Care

Targeted at

NHS trusts and local councils, NHS and social care staff, volunteers, Nursing and Midwifery Council, Health and Care Professions Council, Social Work England, retired NHS staff

Timings

Introduced on 25 March 2020 with a sunset clause of 2 years and the Secretary of State has the power to revoke during that period [Coronavirus Action Plan on 3 March 2020 announced that the government was considering emergency legislation. Matt Hancock confirmed a 'COVID-19 Emergency Bill' on 8 March 2020. The Department of Health and Social Care published guidance on the bill on 17 March 2020. The bill was introduced to the House of Commons on 19 March 2020.]

Stated aims

To ease the burden on front-line staff, increase the availability of health and social care staff to deal with increased need at the height of the pandemic, to enable greater flexibility where services are less able to respond, and ensure that volunteers are not financially disadvantaged due to performing a public good

Summary

The Coronavirus Act 2020 legislates for a number of measures to support the health and social care system response to COVID-19. The Act enables regulators to emergency register suitable people as regulated health care professionals – including recently retired professionals and students who are near the end of their training – through temporary modifications of the Nursing and Midwifery Order 2001 and the Health Professions Order 2001 in the Coronavirus Act 2020. The emergency temporary registration of social workers who may have recently left the profession is also enabled through temporary modifications of the Social Workers Regulations 2018 in the Coronavirus Act 2020. There are existing legislative powers for the General Medical Council to register doctors and for the General Pharmaceutical Council to register pharmacists in an emergency. The Act enables employees and workers to take emergency volunteer leave in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave and establishes 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.

Mental health and mental capacity legislation is modified to require one doctor's opinion to detain patients or transfer prisoners to hospital under the Mental Health Act (rather than the current two); extend the time limits for detention of accused or convicted persons in hospital and emergency detention of voluntary patients already in hospital and; remove the requirement for a second opinion approved doctor to authorise continuation of treatment, through amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 in the Coronavirus Act 2020. Changes are only to be brought in if staff numbers are severely affected and to provide flexibility to help support the continued safe running of services under the Mental Health Act. The Act provides indemnity for clinical negligence liabilities arising from health care services carried out for the purposes of dealing with, or because of, the coronavirus outbreak, where there is no existing indemnity arrangement in place, through the Coronavirus Act 2020.

The legislation enables simplified processes for NHS and local authority care and support. It allows 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; make changes to the Care 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.

The Act suspends 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 draw-down of NHS pensions that apply to certain retirees who return to work, through amendments to the NHS Pension Scheme Regulations (1995, 2008 and 2015) in the Coronavirus Act 2020.

There are also changes to death certification rules to cope with COVID-19 – streamlining of death certification and cremation rules (eg doctor not required to be present) – to enable the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services.

Source(s)

Legislation.gov.uk – Coronavirus Act 2020

Gov.uk guidance – What the Coronavirus Bill will do