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Careful considerations for healthcare practitioners during COVID-19

Our NHS is already overwhelmed in many areas, providers will have to consider the best methods of service delivery to a greater number of patients.

As the Coronavirus grips the country there will be an unprecedented demand on the services of the NHS and other organisations delivering health and social care services. As our health system is already overwhelmed in many areas, it is clear that providers will have to consider far more carefully the best methods of service delivery to a greater number of patients than many of us will have seen before. The government has advocated the importance of working at scale in recent years and providers and commissioners of health and social care at all levels have been looking at a variety of ways to enable this.

As the demand for clinical help will leap in an unprecedented fashion it seems that CCGs are likely to look at greater collaboration to ensure that clinicians and their support staff are able to reach a larger number of patients as quickly and as safely as possible. 

Providers across the whole of the health and social care system have worked on a variety of collaboration projects for the provision of both specific services and fully integrated care in a variety of complex forms in recent years, but at their most basic these arrangements are legal contracts.  Most recently we have seen that the NHS is working with private hospitals for the provision of additional bed space nationally. The parties will have agreed the provision of beds cost with no profit to be made, and agreed other terms to enable this to happen. This story demonstrates that huge steps are being taken to ensure that the NHS and private providers can reach as large a number of patients at a time of substantial national need. The sharing of patients’ personal data is a key issue here as well as the physical occupation of beds and provision of staff.

In the weeks and months ahead greater collaboration and working at scale is likely to be essential in the fight against COVID-19 and it is important to remember notwithstanding the urgency of the situation that any contract your organisation enters into forms the basis of the legal relationship between all participating parties. It is likely to have ramifications beyond the immediacy of the current position. 

The primary care sector, much of which has for decades operated under the simple trading partnership model, has been encouraged to work in networks for the last 12 months and whilst original documentation was provided in template form, it was always envisaged that at primary care level these agreements would evolve and be easy to adapt to enable parties beyond primary care to form part of the collaborating network. Whilst dealing with the current crisis was not part of the network service plan, it is possible this, or new forms of collaboration may be required to ensure that as the most likely first point of contact for many patients, primary care can also adapt to the pressure of current and growing demand and work with other providers as necessary.      

However, any contract at whatever level of collaboration needs to provide a framework and rules for service provision as well as dealing with your relationship with other parties with clarity. It needs to be clear when it involves potentially several different entities all with a slightly different focus amongst other things:

  • Who the contracting parties are, and do they have capacity to enter into the contract?
  • How liabilities and obligations are apportioned?
  • Is it time limited?
  • How decisions will be made?
  • How is data shared? On what basis?
  • Do the parties need to access each others’ IT systems?
  • What rights do any of the parties have – including the price received for services they deliver? and
  • What will happen when something goes wrong?

It is essential that organisations do not lose sight of the fact that they will be entering into contracts which will impose obligations on them which other parties will seek to rely on.  As such you should be clear as to what you are signing up for. What may be a well meant desire to help could come back to bite you in the future.

The Weightmans team are working across the entire 360 degrees of health and social care as well as in collaboration with emergency service bodies and advise on all forms of service contract and collaboration. We are helping our clients adapt to deal with the impact of the coronavirus on their business and can provide you with the advice you need to protect yourself and your business as well as contributing to the national effort in the fight against this pandemic.

Clear guidance is hoped for, and is expected from the government and health experts. Until then, please contact us to discuss any concerns you may have and how we can assist.

Edwina Farrell
DDI: 020 7822 1926

Rachel Kneale
DDI: 020 7822 7175

Victoria Robertson
DDI: 0113 213 4107

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