The Coronavirus Bill announced yesterday will introduce a number of emergency measures to respond to the continuing spread of COVID-19 and the increasing pressures on the provisions of care and services.
The bill addresses a number of areas relevant to health and care practitioners, including the following:
In the event that the Secretary of State advises that an emergency has occurred, the Registrars of the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) would be permitted to temporarily register persons who are fit, proper and suitably experienced. Such persons would therefore be registered and would act as regulated healthcare professionals. Similar powers are already afforded to the General Medical Council and the General Pharmaceutical Council for the emergency registration of doctors and pharmacists in the UK and therefore, the bill aims to extend this power so as to include persons such as nurses, midwifes, paramedics and clinical scientists.
Ultimately, it will be at the discretion of the Registrar who to temporarily register under the above provision however, it is expected that this could include those who are recently retired or are currently students. This will clearly require some risk assessment. We await to see the criteria the Registrar will apply.
Emergency volunteering leave
In a bid to safeguard essential services during the outbreak, the Bill will introduce an entitlement to unpaid statutory leave with provision for compensation to reimburse volunteers for some of their lost earnings and expenses incurred. To be eligible for this emergency leave, you must be issued with an Emergency Volunteering Certificate which will verify that you are an approved volunteer worker, and will confirm the period of time you are to volunteer for. This certificate must then be produced to your employer with a written notice at least three working days before the period confirmed on their certificate.
In order to provide protections to those who undertake emergency volunteering leave, additional provisions will amend the Employment Rights Act (1996). For example, employees will receive additional unfair dismissal protections.
Health service indemnification
As long as arrangements are not already in place for a person to be indemnified (i.e. under an existing insurance policy), the Secretary of State will be able to indemnify a person for clinical negligence which has arisen due to the caring, treatment or diagnosis of a person who either has, is suspected of having, or is at risk of having the Coronavirus disease.
In addition to the above, the Secretary of State will also provide an indemnity for clinical negligence which has arisen from healthcare professionals undertaking routine activities because of the Coronavirus outbreak, but which are not related to the care, treatment and diagnosis of a person as described above. In practice, this means that a healthcare professional who is undertaking activities which may not be within the scope of their usual day-to-day practices, but is required to undertake them due to the pandemic, will be able to benefit from this indemnity.
Under current legislation, where a senior coroner has a reason to suspect that a death was caused by a notifiable disease, there is a requirement for an inquest to be held with a jury. In response to the possible significant increase in deaths relating to the virus and the strain this would place on coroners and their resources, COVID-19 will not be considered a notifiable disease. The duty to hold a jury inquest will therefore be suspended. There will, however, still be discretion to hold a jury inquest if the coroner believes there is sufficient reason for holding one.
It is worth noting that although the purpose of the emergency measures proposed in is this bill are to be temporary, there are no provisions outlining specified time limits and therefore, there is no way of determining at this point how long these measures could be imposed for.
Victoria Mortimer, BLM