COVID-19 emergency bill will protect front-line recruits from negligence claims

Nursing students and retired nurses who register to tackle pandemic will be protected 

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill is expected to be tabled in parliament on Thursday 19 March. Picture: iStock

Nursing students and retired nurses who are deployed to work in the NHS to help tackle COVID-19 will have protection against any negligence claims.

New emergency legislation set out by the government states those working in the NHS in the UK are legally protected for the work they are required to undertake as part of the COVID-19 response.

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Existing NHS staff already have an indemnity arrangement in place, and staff in England working in general practice, out-of-hours services, walk-in centres and prison primary care services are covered by the Clinical Negligence Scheme for General Practice.

Emergency bill will ease the pressure on the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Emergency Coronavirus Bill – expected to be tabled in parliament on Thursday – includes a range of measures designed to help support the NHS as pressures increase as the number of COVID-19 cases rise.

An outline of the legislation published on Tuesday evening states that measures will be time-limited to two years, and will give the UK and devolved governments the ability to 'switch on these new powers when they are needed'.

Measures include:

  • The Nursing and Midwifery Council to be given the legal powers to provide emergency registration for recently retired nurses and third-year nursing students who are near the end of their training. 
  • Indemnity provision for clinical negligence liabilities arising from NHS activities carried out for the purposes of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak where there is no existing indemnity arrangement in place.
  • Retired NHS nurses who return to work to help tackle the coronavirus outbreak will not lose their pension rights. 

Under current rules, NHS staff who return to work after they have retired can suffer pension reductions – known as abatements – and pensions can be suspended if they work for more than 16 hours per week during the first calendar month.

The bill also proposes to ease pressure on front-line staff by reducing the burden of administrative tasks.

Paperwork in hospitals will be cut back to help discharge patients more quickly when clinically appropriate.

The bill states, for example, that urgent mental health detentions will only require one doctor's sign-off, rather than two.

Statutory sick pay will be available from day one of self-isolation 

The bill will also allow for statutory sick pay from day one to be paid to those in self-isolation.

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said the new measures would only be used when 'absolutely necessary'.

'Crucially they give the government the powers it needs to protect lives,' he added.

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