Public and Regulatory Law Impact of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 (the "Bill") | Fieldfisher
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Public and Regulatory Law Impact of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 (the "Bill")

Hannah Unger



On 24 March 2020, the Irish Government published the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020 (the "Bill"). The Bill is the second piece of emergency legislation introduced by the Irish Government in response to the public health crisis arising from COVID-19. (see previous blog on The Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020).
The Bill makes provision for exceptional measures in order to mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 virus on the administration of crucial public service functions. The Bill includes a range of measures by a number of Government Departments for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis. Of interest to regulators in this jurisdiction:
  • The Bill makes provision for a simplified registration process to facilitate the recruitment of retired healthcare professionals; and
  • The Bill also amends the Mental Health Act 2001 to facilitate the ongoing operation of Mental Health Tribunals.
These new changes are discussed in further detail below:
Part 4 - Amendment of Certain Acts Regulating Health and Social Care Professions
Part 4 of the Bill facilitates the restoration to the register of retired healthcare professionals (i.e. Doctors, Nurses, Midwives, Dentists, Pharmacists and other health and social care professionals such as social workers, physiotherapists, radiographers, dietitians, opticians and occupational therapists) by empowering regulators to adopt a simplified restoration process for individuals who wish to respond to the Covid-19 emergency.
Retired health sector professionals are defined as 'previous registrants' under the Bill and capture those who either voluntarily withdrew from the register of their designated profession or were withdrawn due to non-payment of registration fees. Sensibly, professionals who were struck off the register as a result of fitness to practise proceedings are not captured by the definition of 'previous registrants'.
The Bill also provides for an end date for such registration and states that registrants who were registered pursuant to this emergency legislation shall cease to be registered on 31 July 2020. Presumably, this timeline may need to be reviewed as the COVID-19 crisis evolves.
Interestingly, the Bill also provides that where a registered health practitioner carries out activities under the direction or control of a registered medical practitioner, that person may not be investigated by the Medical Council for performing those functions. The amendment to the Bill means that 'non-medical practitioners' can do things normally only done by a medical practitioner once carried under the direction of a medical practitioner. In normal circumstances, these 'non-medical practitioners' would be investigated by Medical Council. If after the investigation, the Medical Council concluded that the person is not a registered medical practitioner and was engaging the practise of medicine, then the Medical Council could report the matter to An Garda Síochána and the Minister can seek an injunction from the High Court. This extraordinary amendment is a recognition of the severity of the public health crisis and the steps necessary to ensure that the healthcare system can operate as effectively as possible in the midst of that crisis. This section of the Bill will also cease to have effect on 31 July 2020.
The following Acts will be amended should the Bill be enacted: the Dentists Act 1985, the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, the Pharmacy Act 2007, the Medical Practitioners Act 2007 and the Nurses and Midwives Act 2011.
Part 5 - Amendment of Mental Health Act 2001
Part 5 of the Bill contains a number of amendments to the Mental Health Act 2001 designed to facilitate the ongoing operation of the Mental Health Tribunals for the duration of the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic.
It will broaden the list of consultant psychiatrists available to the Tribunal and extend the period in which the Tribunal must make decisions on individual cases. It will allow for reduced physical contact by allowing a second psychiatrist to examine a patient remotely and it will allow for one member, paper-based Tribunals minimising personal interaction. The Bill will remove the possibility of psychosurgery for the duration of the exceptional circumstances where one member may be making decisions.
The Bill is currently before Dáil Éireann at the 'First Stage' and can be accessed here

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Public and Regulatory