In order to give public bodies across the UK the powers they need  effectively to respond to the Covid-19 emergency the Coronavirus Bill has been published.

Some of the proposed changes deal with alleviating the burden on frontline NHS and adult social care staff, some help staff by enabling them to work without financial penalty, and some support people and communities in taking care of themselves.

When will the legislation come into force and how long will it be in place?

It is intended that the Bill will reach the statute book and take effect from the end of March 2020. The legislation will be time-limited for 2 years and not all measures will come into force immediately. The Bill allows the 4 UK governments to switch on these new powers when they are needed, and to switch them off again once they are no longer necessary. The measures will only be used when strictly necessary.

Key areas of the Bill

The Bill enables action in 5 key areas.

  1. Increasing the available health and social care workforce
  2. Easing the burden on frontline staff
  3. Containing and slowing the virus
  4. Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
  5. Protecting and supporting people

Actions that the Bill will implement
Some of the proposed changes in the Bill are as follows:-

1. Increasing the available health and social care workforce by doing the following:-

  • Removing barriers to allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work. 
  • Establishing an emergency register. Regulators will be able to emergency register suitable people such as nurses, midwives or paramedics as regulated healthcare professionals.
  • Emergency Volunteer Leave. Enabling employees and workers to take Emergency Volunteer Leave in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave and establishing 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.
  • Indemnity for clinical negligence liabilities. Providing indemnity for clinical negligence liabilities arising from NHS activities carried out for the purposes of dealing with, or because of, the coronavirus outbreak, where there is no existing indemnity arrangement in place. This will ensure that those providing healthcare service activity across the UK are legally protected for the work they are required to undertake as part of the COVID-19 response. 
  • Working hours and pensions. 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 drawn-down of NHS pensions that apply to certain retirees who return to work will be suspended.

2. Easing the burden on frontline staff
by doing the following:-

  • Administrative tasks. The number of administrative tasks that frontline staff have to perform will be reduced 
  • Mental Health legislation. Existing mental health legislation powers to detain and treat patients who need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are a risk to themselves or others will be implemented using just one doctor’s opinion rather than the current 2. 
  • Time limits. Temporarily allowing an extension or removal of time limits in mental health legislation to allow for greater flexibility where services are less able to respond. 
  • Assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare. Allowing 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.
  • Ensuring urgent needs are met. Making changes to legislation 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.
  • Needs assessments - Temporarily relaxing local authorities’ duties in relation to their duties to conduct a needs assessment and prepare an adult carer support plan/young care statement.
  • Video and Audio links in Court. Expanding availability of video and audio link in court proceedings.

Local authorities will still be expected to do as much as they can to comply with their duties to meet needs during this period and these amendments would not remove the duty of care they have towards an individual’s risk of serious neglect or harm. These powers would only be used if demand pressures and workforce illness during the pandemic meant that local authorities were at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties and only last the duration of the emergency.

3. Containing and slowing the virus by reducing unnecessary social contacts. The following actions are proposed:- 

  • Restricting events. Enabling the government to restrict or prohibit events and gatherings during the pandemic in any place and where necessary, to close premises.
  • Education establishments. Providing a temporary power to close educational establishments or childcare providers.
  • Elections. Postponing the elections that were due to take place in England in May this year until May 2021
  • Regulations in Scotland and Ireland. Enabling the departments of health in Northern Ireland and Scotland to make regulations for additional measures to be introduced to help them delay or prevent further transmission of COVID-19. Equivalent powers already exist in England and Wales and these provisions would bring them in line with the rest of the UK
  • Vaccination programmes.  Removing a restriction in how Scottish territorial Health Boards can deliver vaccination programmes so a wider range of healthcare professionals in Scotland would be able to administer a vaccine.
  • Police and immigration powers. Enabling the police and immigration officers to detain a person, for a limited period, who is, or may be, infectious and to take them to a suitable place to enable screening and assessment.

4. Managing the deceased with respect and dignity and enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services. The following actions are proposed:-

  • Death certificates. A coroner is only to be 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 and/or no medical practitioner has seen the deceased within 28 days before their death or after their death.
  • Ashes. Introducing powers to enable the provisions relating to the collection of ashes to be suspended and replaced with a duty to retain until the suspension is lifted, except where family wishes are known. 
  • Registering a death. Expanding the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors acting on behalf of the family and enabling electronic transmission of documents that currently have to be physically presented in order to certify the registration of a death.
  • Second medical certificate. Removing the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate in order for a cremation to take place
  • Jury. Removing 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. Protecting and supporting people by doing the following:-

  • SSP from day 1. Giving the government the power to temporarily suspend the rule that means SSP is not paid for the first 3 days of work missed  because of sickness. These days are known as waiting days. 
  • Reclaim SSP payments. Enabling employers with fewer than 250 employees to reclaim SSP paid for sickness absences relating to coronavirus during the period of the outbreak. Food supplies. Requiring industry to provide information about food supplies, in the event that an industry partner does not co-operate with  current voluntary information-sharing arrangements during a period of potential disruption.
  • Retrospective effect. Statutory Sick Pay is intended to have retrospective effect to 13 March 2020.

We will be providing further updates once the Bill has been considered by Parliament. If you want to talk to someone about how this Bill will impact on you please contact:

Joanna Lloyd – Head of Health (NHS)

Vincent Buscemi – Head of Independent Health and Social Care


For further support and advice relating to the impact of COVID-19, please view our COVID-19 Advisory Service page.

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