COVID-19 Expert Legal Insights

Coronavirus Act: how the emergency legislation will impact healthcare professionals

26 March 2020

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases surged in the UK this week, the government rushed emergency legislation through both Houses, and the Coronavirus Act 2020 (‘the Act’) subsequently received Royal Assent on 25 March 2020.

The legislation gives the government wide-ranging powers to respond to the current coronavirus pandemic. It is time limited to two years and will be reviewed by MPs every six months. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs the emergency legislation will allow "extraordinary measures" never before seen in peace time in the UK, but that the powers would only be used "when strictly necessary" and would remain in force only for as long as required.  

The Act has three main objectives:

  • to give further powers to the government to slow the spread of the virus;
  • to reduce the resourcing and administrative burden on public bodies; and
  • to limit the impact of potential staffing shortages on the delivery of public services.

Key provisions of the Act affecting the healthcare workforce

The legislation allows the UK and devolved governments to ‘switch on’ the new powers when they are needed and, importantly, to switch them off again once they are no longer necessary, based on the advice of the respective Chief Medical Officers of the four nations.

We consider the main provisions below and how these will impact those working in the healthcare sector:

Increasing the number of available health and social care workers 

In order to increase the available healthcare workforce, the Act will remove barriers to allow NHS and adult social staff who have retired in the last three years, or who are not currently in clinical practice, to return to work. The legislation enables regulators such as the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to “emergency register suitable people as regulated healthcare professionals, such as nurses, midwives or paramedics. This might include (but will not be limited to) recently retired professionals and students who are near the end of their training.”[1] Similarly, the Act enables regulators to temporarily add social workers who may have recently left the profession, to their registers, to ensure continuity of care for vulnerable children and adults.

Regulators will be trusted to use this new power as they see fit. In practical terms, they will be able to automatically re-register professionals who have recently retired or whose registration has lapsed, as well as permitting early registration of final year medical students. The restrictions on the number of hours retired staff who return to the NHS can work will be suspended, and volunteers in the health and social care sector who have to take unpaid leave will have access to a UK-wide compensation fund.  

A possible 60,000 more nurses

The NMC has indicated that there are potentially 60,000 additional workers available through re-registering nurses, midwives and nursing associates who have left the register in the last three years. It is also estimated that there are approximately 18,000 third year undergraduate student nurses working to qualification who it is hoped will be registered early.  

Many have called for the NMC to use its emergency powers to reduce the total number of clinical hours required to achieve registration, in the hope that this will reduce the burden of student supervision on the NHS. The regulator will need to carefully balance this however, with ensuring those who achieve registration have passed the relevant academic and skills assessments and are competent and safe to practise.  

A potential pool of 15,500 additional doctors

The General Medical Council (GMC) already has similar powers, so there was no need for the government to include provision for emergency regulation of doctors in the legislation. Our recent blog, Regulatory advice for doctors amidst Coronavirus pandemic, discusses the GMC’s approach to regulation in light of COVID-19 and the key factors doctors need to be aware of when choosing to return to the frontline.

The GMC has indicated that re-registering those who have left the register in the last three years could provide up to 15,500 additional doctors. 

The GMC is not currently planning to register final year students early, however advises that this could change in the future. The GMC further advises that medical students may be able to volunteer in the NHS if they are willing and able to, and can carry out duties that do not require registration.

Almost 8,000 returning clinicians and counting

Currently, 7,563 recently retired clinicians have answered the call to return to work to help with the emergency. Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed to MPs that priority would be given to ensure their training was up to date and they were fully insured, whilst the chief executive of NHS England, Sir Simon Stevens, said that “dedicated refresher training” is needed.


Easing the burden on frontline staff

The Act will reduce the administrative burden on frontline staff by, for example, reducing the number of administrative tasks they have to perform and allowing key workers to perform more tasks remotely and with less paperwork. Non-urgent operations and services will be cancelled or delayed to release staff that can be deployed to other critical services. 

Provisions are included that will amend mental health and mental capacity legislation and which relax requirements on both health services and local authorities to carry out assessments. This aims to facilitate faster discharge from hospital into the community to free up beds, space and staff so that those with the virus can be prioritised. As part of this, mental health patients who need urgent attention can be treated by using just one doctor’s opinion rather than the current requirement of two.

The GMC confirmed last week that doctors due to revalidate their licences between now and September (which is an estimated 36,000) can delay doing so until next year to focus on their frontline duties. GMC Chief Executive, Charlie Massey, hopes this should help “to free up vital time” and says “We’re doing everything in our power to support doctors and employers on the frontline, where patients need them most. We hope this will help ease the burden on doctors already working so hard to deliver the best possible care.”


Managing the deceased with dignity and respect

The government’s proposal said “We want to ensure the deceased are treated with the utmost respect and dignity and that the current procedures in relation to death and still-birth registration and management are modified to enable this and to protect public health. This will take account of the fact that families who have lost a loved one may be self-isolating, and that there may be reduced capacity to register and manage deaths as a result of pandemic-related sickness absence.”

In addition to other changes, the Act expands the list of people who can register a death to include funeral directors acting on behalf of the family and will remove the requirement that any inquest into a death from coronavirus must be held with a jury. It will also remove the need for a second confirmatory medical certificate, in order for a cremation to take place.

We know that these are worrying times for healthcare professionals, and that the fast-paced updates make it difficult to keep on top of the most recent guidance. Whilst these measures are clearly necessary to help alleviate staff shortages and to keep people safe during this unprecedented time, it is important that these changes are implemented and monitored to ensure that the best interests of frontline staff are protected.


The information in this blog is current at the time of publishing.

About the author

Christina is an Associate in the firm’s Regulatory team.  She specialises in the defence of a range of professionals, particularly in the medical,  legal and financial industries.


Latest blogs & news

Mythbusting: Motivation in Starting a Private Prosecution

Private prosecutions provide an effective way to seek justice; and particularly in circumstances when the traditional prosecuting agencies are unable or unwilling to act. Conducted appropriately they can be a useful, efficient and cost-effective tool to secure punishment of the guilty.  Conducted badly they can be an expensive mistake with far reaching consequences. 

In this blog series we draw on our experience of both bringing and defending private prosecutions to help clarify some of the common myths and misunderstandings about private prosecutions. In this blog we look at whether having an ulterior motive in starting a private prosecution can lead to problems down the line.

Mythbusting: Recovery of Costs in Private Prosecutions

Private prosecutions provide an effective way to seek justice; and particularly in circumstances when the traditional prosecuting agencies are unable or unwilling to act.   Conducted appropriately they can be a useful, efficient and cost-effective tool to secure punishment of the guilty.  Conducted badly they can be an expensive mistake with far reaching consequences. 

In this blog series we draw on our experience of both bringing and defending private prosecutions to help clarify some of the common myths and misunderstandings about private prosecutions.  In this blog we look at whether the private prosecutor is entitled to recover their full investigation and legal fees at the end of the case.

Harcus Sinclair v Your Lawyers - Another nail in the coffin of solicitors’ undertakings?

Every solicitor knows that an undertaking is serious stuff.   Arguably it is the greatest power available to a solicitor.  A promise, if broken, that will lead to immediate and serious consequences for the giver.  As such it can be relied upon to the ends of the earth.  The power of undertakings has meant that they sit at the heart of every property transaction, bridging the time gap between the sending of money and the receiving of title.  They are also used in other areas of commercial life and as part of litigation.  The “brand” of a solicitor’s undertaking is so powerful that little thought is given as to where their power comes from. 

Mandatory Covid-19 Vaccinations for Care Home Workers

This week, the Government announced that Covid-19 vaccinations will be made compulsory for care home staff, raising strong emotions on both sides of the argument.

eSports vs. the Law

Gone are the days of computer gaming being viewed as a secluded activity; gaming is now a thoroughly social experience that attracts a global audience of millions and players can compete for large sums of money and celebrity. This burgeoning industry is largely in a virtual world and has developed in a blockchain, decentralised fashion. Often the UK government talks up the UK gaming industry and how keen the government is to support this sector, and there have been instances that show support, but when it comes to playing games competitively, law and regulations have not yet caught up.

Coaching, Teaching and Support Work in Lockdown: Safeguarding and Data Protection considerations when working with children online

The COVID-19 crisis has forced sports clubs, schools, universities and charities to rapidly change their approaches to coaching, teaching and support work. The regulations on social distancing have forced organisations to innovate; services which had previously been offered mostly or wholly in person were rapidly shifted online during “lockdown 1” and will return online at least for the duration of “lockdown 3”.  If the vaccine rollout has the desired effect there will no doubt be some return to “traditional” methods, but it seems very unlikely that the changes brought about by the pandemic will be completely reversed.  In this blog, Claire Parry from Kingsley Napley’s Regulatory team and Fred Allen from the Public Law team look at the challenges organisations face engaging with children online.

Health and Social Care White Paper 2021: Where next for patient safety and professional healthcare regulation?

Last week, the Department of Health and Social Care published a white paper, Integration and Innovation: working together to improve health and social care for all (the ‘White Paper’), setting out legislative proposals for a new Health and Care Bill, planned to come into force in 2022. 

Unacceptable Professional Conduct and Conviction cases: avoid the pitfalls of applying the wrong tests to the wrong facts

Wray v General Osteopathic Council [2020] EWHC 3409 (QB)

Mr Wray (‘Mr W’), an osteopath, appeared before a Panel of the Professional Conduct Committee (‘PCC’) of the General Osteopathic Council (‘GOsC’) after self-reporting a series of events he had been involved in.

The use of artificial intelligence: interesting technological developments in the legal and accountancy sectors

In this second blog in our technology and innovation series, we look at some recent developments in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal and accountancy sectors.

Victims’ Code set to change

On 18 November 2020, the government confirmed that it is proceeding with planned changes to the  Victims' Code, following a consultation that began on 5 March 2020. The changes mean that when the revised Code comes into force, it will be based on a clearly defined set of rights that set out a minimum level of service that can be expected from criminal justice agencies. It is hoped that the changes will mean victims have a greater awareness of their rights, receive the information and support when then need it and have a greater level of satisfaction with the treatment they receive in the criminal justice system. 

Intractable insight: suspension is not enough

On 19 November 2020, the High Court handed down judgment in the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care’s (“PSA”) challenge to a decision of the Medical Practitioners Tribunal (“MPT”) to suspend a doctor from practice. In her judgment, Mrs Justice Farbey emphasises the significance of lack of insight to the question of sanction.

Fit and proper person requirements for directors in the health and care sector – what does this mean and what are service providers required to do?

All providers registered with the Care Quality Commission (“CQC) must assure themselves that all directors who are responsible for delivering care to service users are fit and proper – in other words, they must be able to diligently carry out their responsibility to ensure the quality and safety of care. This forms part of the providers’ duty to ensure the service is well-led, which is one of the focus points during an inspection. Not only does the CQC monitor compliance at the point of registration, but it is an on-going duty and can lead to enforcement action where it is not met.

Best practice for organisations using private prosecution powers

The House of Commons Justice Committee has made a series of recommendations in its report published today which are likely to have a significant impact on the future of private prosecutions in England and Wales. 

The call for emergency legislation to protect doctors from GMC investigations for rationing decisions made during the Coronavirus crisis

Although everyone hopes the now much enhanced critical care capacity in the UK will meet the demand from patients, there is a growing concern that the time will come during the COVID-19 pandemic when the NHS will be overwhelmed and the need for lifesaving interventions will exceed available resources.

Best practice guide for charities conducting private prosecutions

The Charities Commission has recently warned that fraudsters are exploiting the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in order to carry out fraud and cybercrime against charities.  Unfortunately, in our experience, the likelihood of the police taking action against these individuals is low. In the current climate it is easy to understand why the use of private prosecutions is firmly on the rise. In the past, some charities have been criticised for having an overzealous approach to the conduct of their private prosecutions.  In this blog, we highlight the importance of taking a few simple steps to ensure that charities who conduct private prosecutions are beyond reproach.

COVID-19: If you get a fixed penalty notice for non-compliance with lockdown measures – do you have to tell the Solicitors Regulation Authority?

With BBC reports that there have been 178,000 incidents of anti-social behaviour in the last four weeks across England and Wales alone, if a solicitor receives a fixed penalty notice for a non-essential journey away from home - do they have to inform the SRA?

Remote consultations during COVID-19: a doctor’s judgment as to when a face to face appointment is ‘clinically required’

With the COVID-19 lockdown extended in the UK until at least early-May, primary care practitioners and consultants, who have been increasingly turning to remote consultations or telemedicine to treat their patients, will inevitably see an increase in their use to address more complex medical issues. 

Coronavirus Act: updated considerations for healthcare professionals

In our previous blog, we discussed the introduction of the Coronavirus Act and how the emergency legislation impacts healthcare professionals. Understandably however, the situation is constantly evolving and the position must be regularly reassessed. With this in mind, we discuss below some of the recent, key updates impacting the healthcare workforce.

Updates to the Care Quality Commission’s (CQC) COVID-19 Guidance

Last week we provided you with detail on the guidance to be aware of as a manager or owner of a care/domiciliary home in light of the current pandemic. The guidance is of course changing given the nature of the outbreak, so please read on for the key updates:

COVID-19 related insights:

COVID-19 related insights:

Our COVID-19 statement

We recognise that these unique times are presenting unprecedented challenges for our clients and we are here to support you in any way we can.

Click to view

Can you get out of or suspend a contract because of Coronavirus?

Alex Torpey covers the key things to look out for if you are relying on the Force Majeure clause.

Watch the video on LinkedIn

Overcoming the challenges of co-parenting for separated and divorced parents

Rachel Freeman, Partner in our Family Law team, addresses some issues that we are seeing arise for separated parents in the current crisis.

Read the blog

Tech in Two Minutes - Episode 7 - The Coronavirus challenge for tech coworking spaces

Andrew Solomon speaks about the challenge for tech companies and coworking spaces during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Listen to the podcast

The legal basis for lockdown

Alun Milford, Partner in our Criminal Litigation team, provides an in-depth look at the legal basis behind the current lockdown.

Read the blog

Managing your Migrant workforce in the COVID-19 crisis

On Friday 3 April, immigration partner and head of department, Nick Rollason, hosted a webinar looking at urgent issues employers are facing during the COVID-19 crisis and answered some of the key questions being raised.

Watch the webinar recording

Furlough leave and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: key legal considerations for Employers

On Thursday 9 April, Andreas White, Partner in our Employment Law Team, delivered an overview of the scheme with a focus of the key legal issues for UK employers.

Watch the webinar recording

Coronavirus and the perils of signing your Will

Will instructions have apparently risen by 30% since COVID-19 reached our shores. What effect does COVID-19 have on Will signings? James Ward and Diva Shah in our Private Client team blog.

Read the blog

The juggling act of a single mother, home school teacher and head of a family team

Charlotte Bradley, Head of our Family Law Team, reflects on how the COVID-19 crisis has affected working parents like her.

Read the blog

The future public inquiry into COVID-19

Calls for a public inquiry are continuing to mount and are likely to prove difficult to resist. In this blog, Sophie Kemp considers the framework for such inquiries, and the key issues likely to form the core of its terms of reference.

Read the blog

Share insightLinkedIn Twitter Facebook Email to a friend Print

Email this page to a friend

We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

Leave a comment

You may also be interested in:

Skip to content Home About Us Insights Services Contact Accessibility