NHS STAFF WHO WORKED TIRELESSLY throughout the pandemic to care for patients, and who have since contracted Long Covid, are being let down by the UK Government’s failure to provide adequate support, says the British Medical Association (BMA).
In a new report, the Association says that while vaccination reduces the likelihood of developing Long Covid, there remains a ‘significant burden of long-term illness’ from Covid-19, which is likely to increase as more people continue to contract the virus.
The report comes as pay provisions for NHS staff with Long Covid in England – which includes full-pay for Covid-related illness and assurance that Covid-related absence does not trigger HR procedures – are due to fully end in two weeks’ time. As a result, some doctors who are currently unable to work because of their symptoms will struggle to pay their mortgages or feed their families.
As well as being a slap in the face for those staff who put themselves at risk during the pandemic and who are now experiencing often debilitating symptoms, varying from extreme tiredness to heart palpitations, the NHS is likely to face an even greater workforce crisis if the Government does not provide proper support for doctors with Long Covid.
The BMA is therefore, urgently calling on Government to keep these payments in place until long-term solutions are implemented. According to the report, this must include recognising Long Covid as an occupational disease, providing adjustments to staff to help them return to work, and setting up a long-term compensation scheme for those who are too sick to go back to their previous roles.
Without this, many staff will feel as though they have no choice but to leave the profession altogether, further exacerbating the workforce crisis in the NHS.
As of 2 July 2022, ONS figures showed an estimated 1.8 million people in the UK self-reporting Long Covid. Many of these will be healthcare workers, likely due to their greater exposure to Covid-19 while they have been working to look after patients during the pandemic.
According to respondents in a BMA survey who currently or previously had Long Covid, 20 per cent had to take sick leave and 10 per cent had to work reduced hours or reduce their responsibilities.
Altogether the report calls for:
1. Detailed data collection on the prevalence and presentation of Long Covid.
2. Increased funding for research and infrastructure.
3. Preventing Long Covid in children.
4. Support for health professionals to identify and treat Long Covid.
5. Funding and resources to establish multidisciplinary services.
6. Improved financial and wider support for people unable to work due to Long Covid.
7. Improved support and compensation scheme for doctors and health care workers who have Long Covid.
Professor Philip Banfield, chair of council at the BMA, said: “During the pandemic, the NHS introduced Covid-19 pay provisions across the UK to ensure that staff off sick with Covid received full pay. In two weeks’ time, Governments in England and Scotland will end enhanced sick pay. With normal contractual sick pay arrangements back in place, staff with Long Covid might feel pressured to return to work before they have fully recovered.
“In the context of a worsening cost of living crisis, staff are having to ask themselves impossible questions. Do I return to work early, knowing that my symptoms could impact my performance, and by extension, patient safety, or do I sacrifice my income by staying at home?
“For those unable to return to work at all, many are worried about how they will continue to pay their mortgage, or if they can afford to even feed their families. Putting staff in this position is totally unacceptable, which is why we urgently need proper support for staff and a compensation scheme for those who need it. NHS staff gave their all during the pandemic; for some, they have sacrificed their livelihoods and remain profoundly affected by on-going symptoms. For Government to not support them in return is appalling.
“The BMA is committed to supporting its members experiencing Long Covid, and would encourage anyone seeking advice to contact our employer advisory service and other support.”
Dr David Strain, board of science chair the BMA, said: “The more prevalent Long Covid becomes, the more of a risk it poses not only to the nation’s health, but also the ability for the NHS to function properly. It can be incredibly difficult for people with symptoms of Long Covid to carry on working to full capacity, or even at all, and this must be recognised by Government, with the right support put in place to help them while they recover.
“Government might want to act like the pandemic is over, but it’s not, and the consequences of ignoring Long Covid are severe. If we don’t tackle increasing staff absences, serious harm will be done to the health service, which is already dangerously understaffed. The NHS is the people who work in it and looking after them is central to it functioning properly.”
Layla Moran MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said: “The impact of Long Covid on the workforce has been evident through staff shortages in the NHS, and medics living with Long Covid who are now also grappling with the cost of living crisis face the impossible choice of returning to work with a debilitating condition or sacrificing income to stay home.
“As recommended by both the APPG and the BMA, Ministers must recognise the condition as an occupational disease and commit to increased research funding into diagnostics and treatments for Long Covid. To abandon healthcare workers who have already sacrificed so much across the course of this pandemic is morally indefensible.”
* Access BMA employment advice and support here
* Read Addressing the health challenge of Long Covid here.
* Source: British Medical Association