What the Coronavirus Bill may mean for public services

Friday 20 March 2020

The upcoming Coronavirus Bill which will be fast tracked through Government, taking effect by the end of March, contains changes to the way public services are delivered across the UK, in response to the epidemic emergency.

Changes include the statutory obligations of local government, the Police and the NHS. The four UK governments will ‘review and where necessary amend the legislation, to ensure the UK’s response is consistent and effective.’

A focus of the Bill is to ease: ‘the burden on frontline NHS and adult social care staff… by enabling them to work without financial penalty, and support people and communities in taking care of themselves, their families and loved ones, and their wider community’.

As a result, entitlements under the Care Act 2014 will be suspended so councils are not required to meet all adult social care needs. Care assessments can be delayed ‘to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met, even if this means not meeting everyone’s assessed needs in full”.

Other measures include:

  • Changing mental health legislation so people seen as a risk to themselves or others can be forced to have treatment on the opinion of just one doctor.
  • Allowing recently retired or nearly qualified nurses, midwives or paramedics to work in the NHS, with protection against negligence claims.
  • Enabling regulators to temporarily add social workers to their registers who may have recently left the profession.
  • Allowing key workers to perform more tasks remotely and with less paperwork.
  • Police or immigration officers detaining those suspected of carrying the virus, taking them ‘to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment’ for an unspecified period.

Two-year time limit

The Government proposal is for the legislation to be time-limited for two years, with measures coming into force when needed. The Opposition has voiced concern over these powers coming into force with no Commons vote and have requested a review.

The Bill allows all four UK governments to switch on these new powers when needed, and to switch them off again when no longer necessary, based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officers of the four nations.

Adele Cherreson Cole, Editor, stronger (adele.cherreson-cole@alarmrisk.com)

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