The coronavirus bill received its first debate in the House of Commons yesterday (March 23). It will go before the House of Lords today and is expected to receive Royal Assent and become law by the end of the month.
Health and Social Care secretary Matt Hancock said it will give ministers powers to ‘take the right action at the right time’ to respond effectively to the progress of the coronavirus outbreak.
However, the NHS Confederation says the measures outlined in the bill are not enough and is calling for extra investment in frontline services
The powers enabled by the bill will allow recently retired NHS staff and social workers to return to work. While changes to councils’ duties under the Care Act will enable them to prioritise people with the greatest care needs and make the best use of the adult social care workforce.
Mr Hancock said the measures will be temporary, proportionate to the threat, will only be used when strictly necessary and will be in place for as long as required to respond to the situation.
He said they are intended to protect life and the nation’s public health and ensure NHS and social care staff are supported to deal with significant extra pressure on the health system.
However, Niall Dickson, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the measures are not enough and is calling for extra investment in frontline services.
‘The coronavirus bill reflects the need for drastic and immediate action.
‘Red tape, bureaucracy and workforce pressures have long hampered the NHS, but now they cannot be allowed to distract or derail frontline staff and managers.
‘The good news is that the Care Quality Commission has listened to our concerns and halted its inspections during the pandemic, and NHS England has signalled how it intends to free up hospital beds. The Bill is another important step, and of course, it needs to be acted upon at speed.
‘While the provisions in the bill will help to support an expanded NHS workforce, on their own, they will not be enough. Frontline services will need the extra investment committed to by the chancellor to fuel a very different set of services, which is being built in real-time.
‘We will also want to make sure the supply issues for personal protective equipment and ventilators are resolved as we have been promised. Another major task is to ramp up testing for staff – it is vital for them and a key weapon in the wider battle to contain the virus.
‘We support the emergency powers proposed around the Mental Health Act, but they need to be monitored closely, with clear guidance for doctors, nurses and social workers on how they should be used.
‘It is likely that some patients will be detained for longer, and we all want to see a return to the current safeguards as soon as we can.
‘The NHS is stepping up to this enormous challenge and the government and medical experts have given strong direction, but all of us have to play our part through social distancing and following other public health advice.
‘No one can escape the impact of this, every family and every individual will be feeling it, and for some, especially the most vulnerable and those with caring responsibilities of any kind, these are the most challenging of times.
‘If we are to stand a chance of equipping the NHS to fight this battle, we all need to act, and where we can, support each other and those with greatest needs.’
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