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Coronavirus Bill

The government has updated information on a proposed Coronavirus bill – full details are here.

This covers 5 main areas:

  1. Increasing the available health and social care workforce
  2. Easing the burden on frontline staff
  3. Containing and slowing the virus by reducing unnecessary social contacts
  4. Managing the deceased with respect and dignity by enabling the death management system to deal with increased demand for its services
  5. Supporting people by allowing them to claim Statutory Sick Pay from day one, and by supporting the food industry to maintain supplies

The aim is for this to take effect from the end of March 2020.

We will be working with other professional bodies and providers to understand what this will mean, get clarity about key elements that effect social work, and influence how it is implemented.

Our understanding is that the main elements for social workers are:

  • Enable regulators to temporarily add social workers to their registers who may have recently left the profession. This may include social worker students in Scotland. This will ensure vital continuity of care for vulnerable children and adults. These members of staff would be registered and be available to increase the available social care workforce as required.
  • Enable employees and workers to take Emergency Volunteer Leave in blocks of 2, 3 or 4 weeks’ statutory unpaid leave and establish a UK-wide compensation fund to compensate for loss of earnings and expenses incurred at a flat rate for those who volunteer through an appropriate authority. This will ensure that volunteers do not suffer financial disadvantage as a result of performing a public good.

Our understanding is that the main elements for social work are:

  • Enable existing mental health legislation powers to detain and treat patients who need urgent treatment for a mental health disorder and are a risk to themselves or others, to be implemented using just one doctor’s opinion (rather than the current 2).
  • Temporarily allow extension or removal of time limits in mental health legislation to allow for greater flexibility where services are less able to respond.
  • Allow NHS providers to delay undertaking the assessment process for NHS continuing healthcare for individuals being discharged from hospital until after the emergency period has ended.
  • Make changes to the Care Act 2014 in England and the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to enable local authorities to prioritise the services they offer in order to ensure the most urgent and serious care needs are met.
  • Temporarily relax local authorities’ duties in relation to their duties to conduct a needs assessment and prepare an adult carer support plan/young care statement under the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the Social Care (Self-directed Support) (Scotland) Act 2013 and the Carers (Scotland) Act 2016 to enable them to prioritise people with the greatest needs.
  • Expand availability of video and audio link in court proceedings. This would include magistrates’ court hearings taking place by phone or by video.

The bill states that these powers would only be used if demand pressures and workforce illness during the pandemic meant that local authorities were at imminent risk of failing to fulfil their duties and only last the duration of the emergency.

Wider public measures around social gatherings and around possible changes in relation to the registration of deaths will also affect us personally and as a profession that supports people through loss and bereavement.

Our main priorities in influencing this bill and its implementation are grounded in our ethics:

  • Professional integrity - to ensure that our profession is ready to provide the best possible support from all social workers who can offer this, and that social workers are prepared for and protected in our work
  • Human rights and social justice – to work with other agencies to uphold dignity and respect, to maximise human rights, and to ensure marginalised people are not forgotten

Our specific questions will be:

  • How will social workers in practice be supported physically and emotionally during this time?
  • How will returning social workers be prepared for and supported to carry out work safely and well?
  • How will social worker students be supported and supervised? What are the implications for wider social worker education? – we consider that students need the full opportunity to learn.
  • What are the safeguards to ensure that any reduction in the protection of human rights is the least possible?
  • How are statutory bodies prioritising needs and risks in line with ethics?

We already have guidance on social work in disasters, which sets out the social worker role in sudden or significant events. We will be using this and updating this to support the profession through this pandemic.

Outreach to social workers

We will be providing regular updates by bulletin and on our webpages.

Our staff will continue to arrange virtual opportunities for peer support, reassurance and learning throughout this period.

Please look out for these on our events page

BASW is here to help you, and to enable and foster the emotional support that we will all need through these anxious times.  

 

Further information