Coronavirus Act 2020: everything you need to know
Emergency legislation known as the Coronavirus Act 2020 has been introduced by the government to help the country cope with the demands caused by the coronavirus outbreak. We have looked at how the legislation may affect people living with severe mental illness.
The legislation talks about “an emergency period”. This means a timeframe where the spread of the coronavirus is extremely high. And this would impact the workload of healthcare professionals, local authorities, courts and other professional bodies.
How are the government going to make sure that there are enough healthcare professionals?
Healthcare professionals have to be registered with a regulatory body. The government are bringing in emergency registration of healthcare professionals. This is to reduce the pressure on staff providing services during an emergency period.
Which healthcare professionals does the emergency registration apply to?
The emergency registration applies to NHS and social workers. The following types of healthcare professionals will be allowed to register:
- Those regulated by the Nursing or Midwifery Council
- Health and care professional council
This will allow retired professionals and students who are near the end of the training to practise.
I’m worried about being seen by a less experienced healthcare professional – what can I do?
Healthcare professionals will only be registered if the regulatory body is reasonably satisfied that they are suitable to do the job.
It’s important to remember that all health care professionals registered under the legislation will have a duty of care.
It’s reasonable to expect that newer staff will be equipped with the knowledge to treat people. This may be through their formal training or supervision by an experienced member of staff.
Anyone who is not considered fit to practise will not be allowed to do so.
What powers do the government have to stop me meeting with friends or going to the shops?
Unless you have to self-isolate or shield yourself, you are allowed to go outside your home to shop and exercise. And maybe for other reasons. Please see below for more details.
But the legislation allows the government to restrict, or stop, gatherings and events during a coronavirus outbreak period. This would also include closing premises. These restrictions will only be put in place on the advice medical professionals.
As we know the Prime Minister used this legislation on Monday 23 March to restrict gatherings and events. And to close all but the essential retailers. These guidelines state you can only go out for:
- Shopping for basic necessities such as food and medicine. Shopping trips should be as infrequent as possible.
- One form of exercise a day such as a run, walk, or cycle. This should be done alone or only with people you live with.
- Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person. This includes moving children under the age of 18 between their parents' homes, where applicable. Key workers or those with children identified as vulnerable can continue to take their children to school.
- Travelling to and from work, but only where work absolutely cannot be done from home.
We have had a lot of questions from carers worried about how this will affect the support they give to their loved ones. For more information read our advice for carers of those with severe mental illness during Coronavirus.
How will the emergency legislation affect inquests?
Under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 a jury inquest will take place if your
- in custody or state detention, and,
- the death was a violent or unnatural one, or
- the cause of death is unknown.
- because of a mistake by:
- a police officer, or
- a member of the services police force.
- because of an accident, poisoning or disease which should be reported to the authorities. This includes notifiable diseases.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a notifiable disease. Notifiable disease means where notice of that disease must be either given to a government department or inspector.
How will inquests change under the new legislation?
During an emergency period the number of deaths may increase. And it’ll be difficult for coroner services to gather a jury where there is a severe outbreak of the virus. This is because juries could worsen the spread of the virus because people will be working closely together.
During an emergency period, inquests for death caused by coronavirus will not require a jury.
The main aim of the change is to allow bereaved families to avoid delays in the inquest process. This is so they can focus on coping with their loss and getting closure.
Does the change about inquests apply to all deaths caused by coronavirus?
The general rule is that the change about inquests will apply to all deaths caused by coronavirus.
However, coroners will have the option to hold a jury inquest in coronavirus cases if they think it’s appropriate to do so.
This means that you could ask for a jury inquest. This is if you lose a loved one to coronavirus but believe there might be other things that caused their death.
My relative died when they were on a psychiatric ward and there was going to be an inquest with a jury. What will happen now?
There has been no change under the legislation to inquests like this that need a jury. But the Chief Coroner and the Lord Chief Justice have advised that coroners courts should postpone all inquests. Some courts are still open, others aren’t. You will need to contact your local coroner’s office to find out more information.
My relative needs to be assessed for NHS Continuing Healthcare. How will this legislation affect them?
Depending on your circumstances your nursing care might be paid for by the NHS under either:
- Section 117 aftercare
- NHS Continuing Healthcare.
The new legislation does not affect people receiving Section 117 after-care services. Read more about Section 117 aftercare services.
The new legislation does affect NHS Continuing Healthcare. NHS providers can delay undertaking the assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare for individuals being discharged from hospital until after the emergency period has ended. Read more about NHS Continuing Healthcare.
How will the new law affect courts and tribunals?
The new law extends the use of video and telephone links in court and tribunal hearings. You can find out more about the changes on the UK government's website.
What powers do the police have to manage the spread of the virus?
The legislation has given police and immigrations officers powers to be able to manage the spread of the virus.
Police will be able to direct people to seek relevant treatment or attend suitable locations for help. This will make it easier to screen people who may be infected with the virus. And keep the public safe.
Immigration officers will be able to direct or remove a person to a suitable place for screening. Or keep that person in a suitable place for a limited time. And hand them over to a health official for screening.
Who does this change apply to?
This change only applies to certain cases. These are cases where police and immigration officers have:
- reasonable grounds to suspect that a person may be infectious with coronavirus
- and it’s necessary to direct or remove that person to a suitable place
What happens if I don’t comply with the police or immigration officers?
It’s a criminal offence to obstruct the police and immigration officers whilst they are carrying out their duties.
So, if you or your loved one are checked by the police or immigration officers it’s best you follow instructions. As they’re only checking to keep you and others safe.