COVID-19 Law: 'Draconian Measures Obliterate Social Care'

Nicky Broyd

March 27, 2020

Concerns have been raised over loss of rights for people with disabilities and mental health conditions in the small print of the UK Coronavirus Act

The emergency powers were fast-tracked through parliament in just four sitting days.

'Obliteration Bill'

The former Paralympian Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson told the Lords debate before the powers were passed: "The draconian measures outlined made it a personal necessity for me to be here today. This is a health and ​social care obliteration Bill by a different name."

She said: "I am starting to worry that disabled people might be seen as expendable during this pandemic. There is a real fear that this will graduate towards a move to register disabled people and that that will be used to decide future provision."

Easing Pressure

According to the Institute For Government the laws are, among other things, designed to ease pressure on NHS and local authority resources by:

  • Allowing NHS providers to delay assessment of a patient’s need for ongoing nursing care before discharging

  • Easing, in exceptional circumstances, the requirements on local authorities to conduct a 'needs assessment' when it appears that an adult may have needs for care and support

  • Allowing powers to detain and treat patients for mental health disorders to be implemented using the opinion of fewer medical professionals

'Serious Risk'

Inclusion London, which supports more than 70 Deaf and Disabled Organisations working across every borough in the capital, said the new powers pose "a serious risk to the lives of many disabled people".

On its website it said: "The Bill [now law] will effectively free local authorities of their duties to provide social care support under the Care Act 2014 and will only oblige local authorities to provide support in cases where the human rights of disabled people will be breached."

The mental health charity Mind had already warned: "Under the emergency laws the decision to section someone could be made by fewer health professionals and some time limits on detention might be extended or suspended. We recognise that these steps might be necessary to enable the health system to operate with extreme staff shortages but this cannot be at the expense of safeguarding some of the most vulnerable people in our society."

Careful Monitoring

Human Rights Watch said the Act "has serious implications for the rights of people with disabilities and older people, and its implementation needs to be carefully monitored".

The legislation is due to be in place for up to 2 years and powers can be switched on or off by each of the four UK governments. It will be reviewed every 6 months by Parliament.

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