Last reviewed 10 March 2020

As the Government's approach to pandemic preparation continues with a move from the containment phase to measures to delay the spread of COVID19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has given details of forthcoming legislation.

The upcoming COVID-19 Emergency Bill will, he explained, include new powers to make it easier for volunteers to support the fight against the virus.

He outlined how volunteers — who, Mr Hancock said, already play a central role in helping the health and social care system function — will be given additional employment safeguards so that they can leave their main jobs and temporarily volunteer in the event of a widespread pandemic.

“Around three million individuals volunteer in a health, community health and social care setting,” the Health Secretary went on. “In the event of a pandemic, we want to be able to maximise the number of volunteers and the amount of time they can commit to supporting the health and social care system — without fear of them losing their jobs.”

Under these proposed measures, the Government will ensure that 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.

Introducing this proposal, Mr Hancock made clear that leading business groups will be consulted thoroughly about how best to implement these changes.

Following last week’s announcement that measures will also consider emergency registration of retired health professionals, the Bill will also look at ensuring that any such staff who return to work in the NHS will not have their pensions negatively impacted.

The Government has however emphasised that it will only use the measures in the proposed Bill if needed and that this decision will be based on clinical and scientific advice.

It also highlighted that Public Health England (PHE) has already concluded over 21,000 tests so far, with all but 206 coming back negative.

Comment by Croner Associate Director Paul Holcroft

This is welcome news. Those who leave their main jobs to work as volunteers in the NHS in the present fight against the coronavirus need to have employment and pension safeguards.

And the Government is to be commended for its stated intention to consult business groups about how best to implement these changes.

This reassurance follows on from last week’s announcement to change eligibility for sick pay for those who may not be able to attend the workplace because of the effects of the virus.

But more still needs to be done — especially for self-employed who have no employment protection rights in these circumstances.

During the tremendous uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 virus, people should not be forced to be a potential health hazard by having to go to work because they cannot afford to self-isolate at home.