The Coronavirus Bill – how will the emergency legislation impact health and social care in the UK?

This Bill was first debated in the House of Commons yesterday. For wider society, it allows for enforced social distancing, quarantine and school closures. For healthcare it allows for some equally significant changes. Here is a brief guide to some of the key changes proposed:

  1. The emergency registration of health and social care professionals (nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists, operating department practitioners and others), if they are a fit, proper and suitably experienced person to be registered with either the NMC or HCPC with regard to the emergency. This effectively provides for temporary registration for the period of the crisis, to be revoked once the crisis has ended. This will allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work (and in Scotland also allowing social work students to become temporary social workers).
  2. Provides an indemnity for those providing care to patients suspected of having covid-19, or for other patients because the usual healthcare professionals are not available. This should provide a degree of reassurance to professionals concerned about their liability position in such an unfamiliar landscape. We will provide more support on this issue shortly.
  3. An extension of the powers, and a reduction in requirements, in Mental Health Act detention and medication. This includes using just one doctor's opinion rather than two, substituting another doctor for the usual Responsible Clinician, any doctor can provide a report for a section 5(2) detention, which is extended to a period of 120 hours (rather than the usual 72 hours). A section 5(4) whilst awaiting a report is extended from 6 to 12 hours.
  4. Streamline the death management process so that a Coroner is only notified where a doctor believes there is no medical practitioner who may sign the death certificate (or that they are not available within a reasonable time of the death), expanding the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors, enabling electronic transmission of documents in order to register a death, and remove the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 requirement that any inquest into a COVID-19 death must be held with a jury (other notifiable diseases will still require an inquest with a jury).
  5. Allows NHS providers to Discharge patients from hospital, delaying the assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare until after the emergency period has ended.
  6. Enabling local authorities to prioritise (rationalise) 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 assessments.

We will provide more detailed guidance in the coming days. If you have any legal questions arising as a result of this crisis, please let us know. We are sharing responses with healthcare providers when we have consent to do so.

The Bill itself is here;

The Explanatory Notes are here:

The guidance from the government is here:

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.