The Coronavirus Bill: The Response from BASW
BASW's initials calls are set out - more to follow...
BASW notes that the Coronavirus Bill has been introduced as a response to an unprecedented threat to public health. BASW acknowledges that fast and effective measures are required at this time. However, the additional powers taken by Government and the current suspension of some legal and human rights for the most vulnerable are only necessary for the duration of the pandemic. BASW initial calls for the following:
- Rather than the proposed two years, the current powers of the Bill should run for a shorter reviewable period, e.g. 6 months followed by review and then, if necessary, renewal.
- Independent review and oversight on the impact of the suspension of current legal and human rights.
- A clearer exit strategy from the provisions of the Bill, including who will determine when ‘normality’ is returning, and the process whereby ‘normal’ services and human rights safeguards are reinstated.
- Clear support and structures for social workers who are returning to the workforce.
The Coronavirus Bill was introduced at 16.00 on Thursday 19th March. The Government’s intention is to have the Bill in law by the end of March. Making the bill law at speed reflects the emergency - but it also rules out considered reflection and response. The Bill covers a wide range of powers, across the UK, runs to some 300 + pages and covers both issues that are UK wide and issues that are normally with the devolved governments of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. This response deals with those aspects that relate directly to social work and social work practice.
Not all powers of the bill will necessarily be enacted at the same time, if at all and will depend on the emerging situation and its severity.
Social work registration
As part of a range of changes to registration for a number of relevant professionals (e.g. doctors, pharmacists) the Bill allows for emergency admissions to the social work registers in England and Wales and emergency and temporary admission to the social work register in Scotland. Applicants will have to have been previously registered as social workers.
As part of the stated intention of freeing up health professionals there are changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 (2007) for England and Wales, only one doctor may be required to sign a mental health application and the periods patients can be held have been extended. The Mental Health and Treatment Act 2003 (Scotland) again may only need one doctor for an application and again gives additional time extensions for holding a patient. The Mental Health (Northern Ireland) Order 1986 also changes so that a social worker can make the application (rather than an approved social worker. Other than the situation in Northern Ireland there seems to be no change to the AMHP role – however, this is a significant erosion of rights away from the mental health service user.
There are changes to the Mental Capacity Act (Northern Ireland) 2016. There are no changes to the Mental Capacity legislation elsewhere.
The Care Act 2014 and Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014
The requirement under the Care Act 2014 to do an adult care assessment, a carer assessment, assessment of children as carers assessment are no longer necessary nor is the local authority obliged to do a care or support plan. It also revokes Section 17 of the 1989 Children Act to support the transition of children with disabilities to adult care. Similarly, the requirement under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to undertake a needs assessment, a carer assessment and assessments of disabled children aged 16/17 is revoked. In short, the rights to assessment are lost, and thus the rights to services - a loss of hard-won rights by the most vulnerable.
NHS Continuing Healthcare Assessments
The requirement to undertake assessments of patients being returned home is revoked. Since the requirements is in place to stop ‘revolving door’ admissions it is difficult to see how removing this requirement will resolve any problems.
The police, and immigration officials, will have the power to detain and screen individuals and / or groups who they belief might be infected with C-19 and a risk to others. Individuals can be detained if necessary, using reasonable force, including in a hospital. Individuals will have to answer questions and submit to medical assessment and intervention. Officials can enter a home. Depending on the circumstances this will need the approval of a consultant in public health or in certain cases a magistrate. This is a significant erosion of existing human rights which states that individuals have a right to liberty, and a right to private and family life and arguably other rights as well.