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What measures can be taken without notification to the European Commission?

There have always been ways for public bodies to assist without being required to notify these for approval. These continue to be available during the financial crisis, and are likely to be increasingly useful for measures which need to be introduced quickly. The measures include:

Those where it is possible to conclude that there is no effect on trade between Member States – for example, measures which are likely to have only a limited local effect. The European Commission has concluded, for example, that measures to assist locally-focused cultural activity can be assumed to have no effect on inter-State trade. 

Those where it is possible to conclude that the State is acting in a way consistent with a commercial operator (the so-called Market Economy Operator Principle) – particular care will need to be taken in the context of current economic conditions to ensure that it can reasonably be asserted that a commercial operator would act in the same way as the public body.

Measures under the General Block Exemption Regulation – this legislation allows various types of aid, or aid schemes, to be employed.

Examples include aid for SMEs, aid for research and development, aid for local infrastructure and aid to ports and airports.

De Minimis Measures – Member States are permitted to grant small amounts of aid to undertakings over three fiscal years (the current year and the previous two years). This allows undertakings to receive up to €200,000 (or €500,000 where they are providing public services).

Related FAQs

I have essential workers who do home visits. How do I assess the risks?

The fundamentals of risk assessment remain the same as for any other foreseeable risk.

Focus on risk controls which reflect Government guidance; social distancing (2 metres) and avoiding contact with occupiers if possible, high-quality PPE – disposable overalls, gloves and fluid repellent surgical face masks, ready access to antibacterial wipes for surfaces, tools and equipment and plentiful hand sanitizer.

Do I need to obtain consent from a member of staff if we have taken the decision to restrict/alter their duties?

If the duties are so fundamentally different from their contracted role, then yes. For example, if you are asking a frontline clinical member of staff to undertake administrative tasks in another area, then this will be a fundamental change to their terms and conditions for which you need their consent.

If there is a minor alteration to their duties, or the clause within their contract is wide enough to cover their amended duties, then arguably to do not need their consent but best practice would be to obtain their agreement.

What is the NICE guidance around clinical decision-making?
  • Be alert to the fact that guidance on treating Covid-19 may change with emerging knowledge/scientific data and this may require subsequent modifications to treatment.
  • Critical care staff should support healthcare professionals who do not routinely work in critical care but need to do so.
What is the guidance in relation to the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards during the Covid-19 pandemic?

The Department of Health & Social Care has published guidance for hospitals, care homes and supervisory bodies on the Mental Capacity Act 2005 (MCA) and Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) during the coronavirus pandemic.

In many scenarios created or affected by the pandemic, decision makers in hospitals and care homes will need to decide:

  • if new arrangements constitute a ‘deprivation of liberty’ (most will not), and
  • if the new measures do amount to a deprivation of liberty, whether a new DoLS authorisation will be required (in most cases it will not be).

If a new authorisation is required, decision makers should follow their usual DoLS processes, including those for urgent authorisations.

A summary of the key points to be taken from the guidance is outlined below:

Use of the MCA and DoLS due to Covid-19

  • During the pandemic, the principles of the MCA and the safeguards provided by DoLS still apply.
  • It may be necessary to change the usual care and treatment arrangements, for example to provide treatment for people with Covid-19, to move them to a new hospital or care home to better utilise resources or to protect them from becoming infected.
  • All decision makers are responsible for implementing the emergency Government health advice  and any decision made under the MCA must be made in relation to a particular individual, it cannot be made in relation to groups of people.

Best interest decisions

  • In many cases, a best interests decision will be sufficient to provide the necessary care and treatment for a person who lacks the capacity to consent to the care and/or treatment arrangements during this emergency period.
  • If an individual has made a valid and applicable advance decision to refuse the treatment in question, then the relevant treatment, even for Covid-19, cannot be provided.

Delivering life-saving treatment

  • Where life-saving treatment is being provided in care homes or hospitals, including for the treatment of Covid-19, then the person will not be deprived of liberty as long as the treatment is the same as would normally be given to any person without a mental disorder.
  • The DoLS will therefore not apply to the vast majority of patients who need life-saving treatment who lack the mental capacity to consent to that treatment, including treatment to prevent the deterioration of a person with Covid-19.

The full guidance can be found here.

Freedom to Speak up – a reminder

Has there ever been a more important time for all staff to feel that they are able to raise concerns about their working environment?

It is a pertinent time to remind all staff that they should be able to raise concerns without the fear of repercussions. It is a good time to be reviewing and re-issuing your Freedom to Speak up/Whistleblowing policy to all. Likewise it is a good time to remind all staff that they should not treat others unfairly or detrimentally for raising health and safety concerns.

Both subjecting someone to a detriment because they have blown the whistle or raised health and safety concerns (and dismissing someone for the same) is unlawful.