Coronavirus Bill: How it affects Community Pharmacy

24 Mar 2020

The government is in the process of enacting emergency legislation to help the UK deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Coronavirus Bill contains wide-ranging provisions which, once enacted, will affect everyone in the country. To assist members, the NPA has prepared a brief overview of the main provisions of the Coronavirus Bill that are most relevant to community pharmacies.

Legal status

  • Draft bill presented to House of Commons 19 March 2020.
  • 2nd reading and debate in House of Commons took place on 23 March 2020.
  • Expected to pass through all stages quickly and without opposition.

Duration of Act (once passed)

  • Two years, but with some exceptions, and ability to end early or extend.

Government’s stated five main aims of Bill

  • Increasing available health and social care workforce
  • Easing burden on frontline staff
  • Containing and slowing the virus
  • Managing the deceased with respect and dignity
  • Supporting people

Main provisions that may be relevant to members

Emergency registration of health professionals

  • New registration powers for Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to temporarily register fit, proper and suitably experienced persons.
  • The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and General Medical Council (GMC) are not included because they already have these powers. The GPhC is contacting former pharmacy professionals who have left the register in the last three years who may be able to help. This includes people who have voluntarily removed themselves or were removed for non-renewal from the GPhC register in the last three years. These individuals would be included on the temporary register and could practise in Great Britain if they chose to do so (it is not compulsory).  The GPhC has said that those choosing to return to practise should only do so if they are fit to do so, taking into account their health, skills, knowledge, experience and personal circumstances.
  • The Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland (PSNI) does not already have the same emergency powers that the GPhC does, so the bill gives them powers to add temporary registrants and to annotate registrants’ entries temporarily as supplementary or independent prescribers. Groups that could be temporarily registered include pre-registration pharmacists and recently retired pharmacists.
  • For members, this could mean an increased pool of available pharmacy professionals to help if there are staff shortages; however, some of these temporarily registered professionals may need refresher training on certain aspects of working in a pharmacy, depending on their circumstances. Members will need to ensure that all staff working are familiar with the pharmacy SOPs and how to use systems such as the PMR. Issues such as access to a Smartcard and SCR use will need to be considered.

Emergency volunteers

  • There is a new form of statutory unpaid leave for emergency volunteers. If any members of the pharmacy team obtain an emergency volunteering certificate, they would be entitled to be absent from work to act as an emergency volunteer for a period of either two, three or four consecutive weeks (as specified in the certificate). However, this does not apply to workers employed by an undertaking with a headcount of less than ten. Members of larger organisations may want to check with their staff whether any of them are intending to act as an emergency volunteer and consider whether they are would be better placed staying in the pharmacy.

 Health Service indemnification

  • The bill provides for indemnity coverage for clinical negligence of healthcare workers and others carrying out NHS/HSC activities connected to care, treatment or diagnostic services regarding the pandemic. This is a safety net for where such activities are not otherwise covered under existing indemnity arrangements. This also extends to NHS ‘business-as-usual’ activities that healthcare professionals and others (including retired healthcare professionals assisting with the pandemic) may be asked to carry out because of the pandemic. The NPA indemnity team have provided the following statement on this “The extent of indemnity coverage under the bill is unclear although it is believed this will not cover pharmacists and other pharmacy staff working in the pharmacy environment. What it is likely to cover is where pharmacists/pharmacy professionals are drafted in by the NHS to use their skills in hospitals etc, for example to provide routine vaccinations.”

 DBS checks – Wales and Scotland

  • There are provisions to allow the temporary relaxation of requirements in Wales and Scotland for vetting/disclosure checks to be completed before someone can start working in certain types of role. There is no such provision for England, because workers are already able to start work before an enhanced disclosure is received.

 Vaccinations – Scotland

  • There is a provision to allow a wider range of healthcare professionals to administer vaccinations and immunisations, rather than just medical practitioners and people acting under their direction. This could mean that the Scottish government may involve pharmacists in administering routine immunisations.

Schools closures

  • The bill includes detailed provisions for the temporary closing of educational institutions and childcare premises. The government has issued guidance on which key workers will be entitled to continue to send their children to school. Key workers do include pharmacy staff, although they may still have difficulties finding a place for their child. This could have a significant impact on staffing levels in the pharmacy. Members are advised to discuss this with their team and allow staff time to sort out suitable childcare arrangements.

Statutory sick pay

  • There is provision for the Secretary of State to make regulations to allow employers to recover statutory sick pay (SSP) paid in respect of absences related to covid-19. This will only apply to employers with fewer than 250 employees.
  • There is a temporary suspension of the normal rules that make the first three days of sick leave not eligible for SSP – this will only apply to absences related to covid-19.
  • It is expected that the guidance on whether an employee should be deemed incapable of work due to covid-19 will change frequently.
  • It is expected that the government will publish guidance the changes to SSP shortly. Members are advised to refer to the government website for the latest information which can be found here.