The Coronavirus Bill- an update
BASW has written to ministers to set out pressing issues for consideration in relation to the Bill as below:
BASW recognises that Covid-19 presents an unprecedented threat to all the communities that live in the UK.BASW acknowledges the speed with which Parliamentarians are having to consider the Bill and therefore restricts itself to the most salient issues – more information can be provided at a later date, if necessary.
Many of the provisions BASW is most concerned about are in Part 2 of the Bill and in the Schedules. These provisions may come into force as decided by a Minister, and by regulations. It is unclear what the threshold for commencement would be for some of the most concerning changes as described below and it is unclear what local/regional discretion in implementation there will be after commencement.
The duration and monitoring of the legislation
It is the view of BASW that while the need for swift decisive action is essential to stem the outbreak, the proposal whereby the legislation is in force for two years, and then extendable by ministers, is disproportionate to the current situation. A period of six months, extendable by the approval of Parliament, is we believe more appropriate and equally effective.
BASW further call for an agency, independent of Government, to be empowered and resourced to monitor the impact of the changes and report back to Parliament and the media on a regular basis.
1. Changes to the Mental Health Act 1983 (England and Wales) and Mental Health and Treatment Act 2003 (Scotland)
Amongst other provisions, the proposal to reduce the number of doctors involved in compulsory admission of mental health service users and the periods whereby patients can be detained (for more than a short period) is a serious erosion of the human rights of mental health service users. BASW notes that the thinking behind this is to relieve pressure on hard pressed services, particularly the medical profession. We note that while it might speed up assessments, it will not relieve pressure on Approved Mental Health Professionals (AMPHs) the vast majority of whom are social workers and who make the decision about detention or otherwise. The proposed changes to the Bill set out in paragraph 1 – i.e. a six month period with independent review - would go some way to restoring confidence that once the crisis passes mental health service users will have their full rights restored.
2. Changes to the Care Act 2014 and Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014.
The proposal to change the legal rights to assessment (and therefore the right to services) for adults with a disability, vulnerable elderly, children who act as carers, and children with a disability is an emergency measure with the effect of seriously reversing hard-won rights won over the last twenty years. BASW has heard the extreme concern of organisations representing people who use services and carers. We are also not clear when, and under what circumstances, this provision in the Bill would be activated. BASW proposes that these hard-won rights and provisions for access to social care need to be left in law and this aspect of the legislation should be unamended. Local authorities would then continue to prioritise cases, and services, as they do at present. If the provision is intended to protect local authorities from judicial review after the crisis, an alternative, rights protecting approach should be taken.
3. NHS Continuing Healthcare Assessments.
This provision is in place precisely to stop ‘revolving door’ discharges of patients from hospital. BASW believes that revoking this duty, would simply risk inappropriate discharges and re-admittance to hospital. Instead a simple requirement to streamline the process reflecting operational issues would be as effective.
4. Schedule 20 Powers
BASW understands the thinking behind the proposals to manage those individuals at risk of spreading Covid-19 who may not be able or willing to comply with general public health safeguards. However, BASW believes that there are significant risks that minorities (e.g. asylum seekers, the homeless, people with learning disabilities, travellers, and undocumented migrants) would be disproportionately affected by the proposals such as enforced screening, detention and treatment. BASW’s proposal for an independent agency to monitor the impact of the legislation would provide an important safeguard for these individuals and communities.
5. Changes to Social Work Registration
At this time of unprecedented challenge BASW welcomes the opportunity for social workers with recent relevant experience, to re-enter the workforce. BASW will work closely with the social work regulators in the four countries to ensure this is undertaken swiftly, appropriately and effectively.
BASW welcomes the fact that social workers have been given ‘critical worker’ status, a recognition of the vitally important work that social workers undertake every day of the year. Social workers will play their part, alongside many other professionals, in responding to the Covid -19 outbreak. A proportionate Bill, which safeguards that rights that we all seek to maintain, is key to an effective response.
Dr Ruth Allen, CEO BASW