COVID-19 Expert Legal Insights

Regulatory advice for doctors amidst Coronavirus pandemic

24 March 2020

Amid the current COVID-19 pandemic, we recognise that there is a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty amongst those working within the healthcare sector. Regulatory bodies in the UK have responded to this by publishing advice and guidance for practitioners on their registers.

In this blog, we look at the position as it stands for doctors, with the intention of providing some reassurance in these difficult times. This is obviously an evolving situation and regulators will undoubtedly review and update their advice in line with the UK governments guidance as that inevitably continues to change.

On 3 March 2020, the General Medical Council (GMC), together with the other health and care regulators released a joint statement outlining their approach to regulation in light of COVID-19. The full statement can be accessed here.

Importantly, the statement recognises that “professionals may need to depart from established procedures in order to care for patients and people using health and social care services...” and reassures that “our regulatory standards are designed to be flexible and to provide a framework for decision-making in a wide range of situations”.

The key points are as follows:

  • Practitioners are encouraged to use their professional judgement to assess the risk in delivering safe care, informed by any relevant guidance and the values and principles set out therein (i.e. Good Medical Practice).
  • Due to the highly challenging circumstances, it is recognised that practitioners may need to depart from established procedures in order to care for patients.
  • Where a concern is raised to the GMC, it will be considered on its own facts, taking into account the factors relevant to the environment in which the doctor was working. This will include any relevant information about resources, guidelines or protocols in place at the time.

In addition to the joint statement, the GMC has published specific guidance for doctors on its website, from which the following key points emerge:

  • Doctors should continue to follow the ethical guidance as far as practical in the circumstances. The GMC’s website helpfully streamlines the guidance into 11 categories which include matters such as confidentiality and care at the end of life.
  • On 11 March 2020, the UKs Chief Medical Officers and NHS Englands National Medical Director released a joint statement outlining how they intend to support doctors. That statement has been subsequently updated (most recently on 20 March) and will no doubt continue to get updated. As such, it is vital that doctors continue to check to ensure that they are practising in accordance with the current advice. In essence, the updated statement is consistent with and reiterates the advice provided by the statutory regulators. It also makes clear that the GMC, together with the UKs education bodies, is working to ensure that the long-term prospects of doctors in training are not compromised.
  • There is recognition that the pressure on services may result in doctors working outside their usual practices or in unfamiliar surroundings. The advice is that, when making difficult decisions about the safest and best course of action at any given time, doctors should consider factors including:
    • What is within their knowledge and skills;
    • What support other members of the healthcare team can offer;
    • What will be best for the individual patient given the available options;
    • The protection and needs of all patients they have a responsibility towards; and
    • Minimising the risk of transmission and protecting their own health.

Evidently, given the risk of infection, the guidance also helpfully covers what doctors should do if they know or suspect they are infected, which includes self-isolating.


Retired and/or left practice – returning to the front line?

The COVID-19 outbreak is new territory and it has meant that frontline staff are tremendously stretched. To assist, the government is expected to ask the GMC to give temporary registration to 15,000 doctors who left the register or gave up their licence to practise in the last 3 years. A guide to which can be accessed here.

The key factors you need to be aware of are as follows:

  • The process is in accordance with section 18a of the Medical Act 1983 which allows the Secretary of State to grant ‘temporary registration with regard to emergencies involving loss of human life or human illness’;
  • If you've been contacted, you are permitted to opt-out;
  • The doctors who can be considered must be considered by the Registrar to be ‘fit, proper and suitably experienced’;
  • You will have a contract that reflects all the working hour protections, pay arrangements, annual leave entitlement and inductions that are provided to new FY1 doctors;
  • If you have retired, the government is bringing forward emergency legislation which will assist doctors not to fall foul of the 16-hour rule which currently prevents staff who return to work after retirement from the 1995 NHS Pension Scheme;
  • If you are engaged by an NHS trust to provide NHS services, you will be covered by the Clinical Negligence Scheme for Trusts. If you are engaged by a GP practice to provide NHS services, you will be covered by the Clinical Negligence Scheme for General Practice. Please note, the arrangements are specific to NHS services, not private practice;
  • Aside from aforementioned, medical defense organisations are issuing information and therefore you are best placed to check with yours as to your personal position. As an example, the Medical Protection Society confirmed that it will offer no cost professional indemnity protection to non-practicing or retired doctors who return to work during this pandemic; and
  • You will not be expected to revalidate whilst you hold temporary registration.


These are unprecedented times, and therefore you may be faced with dilemmas which are new to you. It is clear the GMC and other regulatory bodies are committed to transparency during this outbreak, and that their ultimate priority is the protection of life. Nonetheless, you will remain accountable for the decisions you make, and must be able to evidence your decision-making in the same way you would otherwise do outside of such a crisis. This means that your clinical records will need to be clear and robust. Further, internal processes such as incident reporting should be used where you are sufficiently concerned about issues which arise.

The GMC has committed to regularly updating its advice for doctors as the situation develops, but should you be concerned about your professional practice, please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

About the author

Shannett Thompson is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory team. She is a highly experienced lawyer taking the lead in defending health professionals before their regulatory bodies including the GMC. She has substantial experience in advising individuals in relation to their regulatory obligations in the wider context.  


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.

Wording allegations as “sexual” or “sexually motivated”: An analysis of Haris v General Medical Council [2021] EWCA Civ 763

We previously wrote on the decision in Haris, in which the High Court considered and gave clarity on how professional regulators should consider wording allegations of a sexual nature.

In upholding the substantive decision of the High Court, the Court of Appeal (the Court) judgment in Haris v General Medical Council [2021] EWCA Civ 763 delivered this month (May 2021), adds further commentary on the wording of such allegations in disciplinary proceedings.

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.

Rule 12 – when the Assistant Registrar’s decision not to refer an allegation against a doctor is not final

R (on the application of Young) v General Medical Council [2021] EWHC 534 (Admin).
The material issue in this case was whether a second assistant registrar of the GMC (“AR2”) was right to decide that allegations should proceed, despite a decision previously made by an assistant registrar (“AR1”) that allegations should not proceed.

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.

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