COVID-19: New Laws Regarding Health Professionals

The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Bill 2020, which is being considered urgently by the Houses of the Oireachtas (the Irish parliament) on 25 and 26 March 2020, proposes a number of measures that are intended to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the administration of some public service functions. This briefing addresses the important proposals that the Bill makes in respect of the registration and conduct of health professionals. Other McCann FitzGerald briefings address the Bill’s implications for residential tenancies, employment law and land-use planning.

The Bill proposes to address the urgent need to maximise the available number of skilled health professionals in Ireland by facilitating the temporary re-employment of recently-retired health sector professionals. It also proposes to permit non-doctor health professionals who are acting under the control or direction of a doctor to undertake activities that currently are reserved to doctors.

Expanding the Health Services Workforce

The Bill proposes to empower regulators of the health professions to adopt a more streamlined and simplified restoration process to the register of each relevant health profession for individuals who wish to respond to the Covid-19 emergency. This is in part a response to the widely publicised media campaigns to attract health practitioners back to Ireland, out of retirement, etc.

Relevant professions include doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and pharmacists and a wide range of health and social care professionals such as social workers, physiotherapists, radiographers, dietitians, opticians and occupational therapists. No fee is payable for an applicant for re-registration under these arrangements.

Temporary re-registration under these arrangements would be until 31 July 2020 and (in the case of dentists) would be available only in respect of people who have practised within the two years preceding the application for re-registration.

Professional Regulatory Arrangements

The Bill provides that, where a registered health practitioner of any of a number of types carries out activities under the direction or control of a doctor, and the relevant activities are of a type reserved to doctors, then that non-doctor health practitioner cannot be investigated by the Medical Council for performing those functions.

This is a legislative mechanism to effectively suspend the restriction on the provision of certain procedures by persons other than doctors, when a relevant health professional is acting under the control or direction of a doctor, in the extenuating circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis.

The relevant non-doctor health professions include those of:

  • Dentist
  • Pharmacist
  • Nurse
  • Midwife
  • Paramedic
  • Any professional registered under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (such as a physiotherapist, a medical scientist, a psychotherapist or an occupational therapist)

McCann FitzGerald will continue to provide updates on and analysis of these and other COVID-19-related developments in coming weeks.

This document has been prepared by McCann FitzGerald LLP for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional advice. Such advice should always be taken before acting on any of the matters discussed.