Coronavirus Bill update

Wednesday 25 March 2020

The Coronavirus Bill went to the House of Lords on Tuesday and is expected to become legislation by Thursday, triggering a parliamentary recess.

The Bill will deal with: "the coronavirus emergency only", assured Matt Hancock. The Bill gives: “all four governments a legislative and regulatory toolkit to use”.

Social care

Changes to social care measures, which include suspending the Care Act 2014 duties in England, are to: “allow for prioritisation should it be necessary”, said Hancock. Councils are still expected to meet everyone’s needs and to follow human rights obligations. Hancock reassured: “existing care packages will not be reduced overnight”.

Care obligations for councils remain, unless they find themselves faced with staff shortages due to the virus. NHS England estimates that in the event of a worst-case scenario the absenteeism rate could be as high as 30% for health and social care workers.

Hancock went on to explain that the new legislation does not mean a minimum of support will become the default. He advised that if councils reduce care packages, “they must be aware of the outcomes”.

In response to grave concern over the lowering of social care standards, Hancock went on to clarify: “Those who need social care to live their everyday lives can get it and will be prioritised over those for whom it is not a matter of life and death.”

As discussed in the House on Monday, it should not be possible for councils to drop care packages completely. Services should be disrupted as minimally as possible.

Government guidelines on shielding at care homes was also discussed. There was some concern over possible abuse at all in-patient units once they are shut to visitors and external scrutiny.

Additional powers

HM Government believes it is: ‘likely that organisations will find it very difficult to comply with a number of procedural requirements set out in the Mental Health Act 1983’. In response there is provision for an extension or removal of legal time limits relating to detention and transfer of patients. These measures are only activated where staff numbers are seriously depleted.

The Bill also provides broad powers for police to take individuals to another place to contain the infection.

Councils are being given powers to control funeral arrangements. Funerals can be conducted, but with only one person attending, apart from the celebrant. There is also provision for funeral directors to sign death certificates.

There is provision for emergency registrants to the register held by the Registrar of Social Work England (SWE) and Social Care Wales (SCW) to help with any shortage of social workers in the children’s and adult social care sectors.

The new Emergency Volunteers Policy requires councils across the UK to identify volunteer social care opportunities, matching these to volunteers. It is acknowledged this may add additional burdens to the work councils are doing in response to the outbreak. HM Government will: ‘provide detailed guidance for LAs to follow and will design a simple system in collaboration with them that is easy to administer. Additional funding may also be required.’

A regular six-month review of the Bill was announced in Parliament on Monday. The Bill is 329 pages of legislation, which may be subject to change. It has a life of two years and will be debated and voted on every six months. It will only be renewed if necessary.

Adele Cherreson Cole, Editor, stronger (adele.cherresoncole@alarmrisk.com)

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