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EBI-funded project produces explanatory materials on COVID-related changes to health law and guidance across the UK

13 August 2020

Professor John Coggon (Centre for Health, Law, and Society, University of Bristol Law School), in collaboration with the UK Faculty of Public Health, PolicyBristol and colleagues in Law Schools at Cardiff University, the University of Edinburgh, and Queen’s University Belfast, is leading an Elizabeth Blackwell Institute-funded project to track and analyse COVID-19 related developments in law and policy as these apply to health professionals and the contexts in which they work.

The public health emergency created by the outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 has led to governments across the world instituting extraordinary legal and policy measures. Across the UK, these initially included a general lockdown and changes to shore up workforce capacity within the NHS. As the lockdown situation has eased, the regulatory questions have grown more complex, with more varied and localised measures being implemented. At the same time, professional, regulatory, and advisory organisations have been issuing guidance with a view to coordinating practical responses to the pandemic. The need for urgent action has been based on requirements to protect the public’s health and to prevent crucial parts of social infrastructures, including healthcare systems, from becoming critically overwhelmed. However, the speed at which the crisis has unfolded, its surrounding uncertainties, and the direct and indirect consequences of different measures and interventions, all invite careful and continued scrutiny of the framing and operation of the laws, policies, and regulatory instruments that have been put in place.

This project therefore analyses developments in law and policy with reference to concerns about public health ethics, social justice, the protection of human rights, and respect for the rule of law. It also monitors these changes as they apply to health professionals and the contexts in which they work across the four nations of the UK. As law and policy have developed, complexities and challenges have become increasingly apparent. There have been:

  • Tensions between legal rules;
  • Ambiguities about what constitute legal regulations and what is advisory guidance;
  • Difficulties with clear and effective communications, which are compounded by distinctions across the four nations of the UK.

As part of the project, a series of explanatory resources has been generated to:

  • Explain the framing and operation of the laws, policies, and regulatory instruments that have been put in place;
  • Emphasise the ongoing importance and applicability of human rights and equality laws and their bearing on reflective, ethical practice;
  • Be accessible to non-specialist audiences.

These briefings focus on domains that intersect with healthcare and public health policy.

Further information

Contact the lead researcher: Professor John Coggon

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