Government announces further measures in response to COVID-19
The Government has outlined further detail on proposed measures expected to be included in an upcoming COVID-19 Emergency Bill, as plans continue to accelerate ahead of an expected move from ‘contain’ to ‘delay’.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has outlined how volunteers will be given additional employment safeguards so they can leave their main jobs and temporarily volunteer in the event of a widespread pandemic. Under these proposed measures, Government will ensure the jobs of skilled, experienced or qualified volunteers are protected for up to four weeks to allow them to shore up resilience across the health and social care systems. As part of this, leading business groups will be consulted thoroughly about how best to implement these changes.
Further proposed measures the Government are thought to be considering include allowing certain civil proceedings in the magistrates’ courts to be conducted via telephone or video, as well as the expansion of audio and video live links in various criminal proceedings. The provisions will ensure individuals who may be forced to self-isolate are still able to appeal to a court, while ensuring courts can continue to operate even in the height of an epidemic so that justice is delivered.
Following last week’s announcement that measures will also consider emergency registration of health professionals who have since retired, the Bill will also look at ensuring that any retired staff who return to work in the NHS will not have their pensions negatively impacted.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "We will do all we can to contain coronavirus, but as we know, COVID-19 is spreading across the world, so I want to ensure government is doing everything in its power to be ready to delay and mitigate this threat.
"Public safety is my top priority. Responding to coronavirus is a massive national effort and I’m working with colleagues across government to ensure we have a proportionate emergency bill, with the right measures to deal with the impacts of a widespread COVID-19 outbreak.
"We plan for the worst and work for the best, and the NHS is working 24/7 to fight this virus. Calls to NHS 111 have increased by more than a third and we have already put in place 500 extra staff to help with this increase. Every person has a role to play in managing the spread of COVID-19 – whether that’s washing your hands more often for 20 seconds or catching your sneezes."
New NHS data released this week showed that telephone calls to NHS 111 were up by more than a third compared with the same time last year, with an extra 120,000 calls to NHS 111 in the first week of March. Between Thursday 27 February and Thursday 5 March, NHS 111 answered 389,779 calls. To help deal with this demand, the NHS have announced around 500 additional initial call responders have already been trained, an increase of 20%, and people can also visit NHS 111 online.