This week 65 MPs and peers signed a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson asking for long COVID to be recognised as an occupational disease – highlighting the ‘devastating’ economic impacts faced by those who have been off work for months.
It comes a week after GPonline reported that GP partners suffering with long COVID are losing their jobs because they are unable to fulfil partnership duties.
Campaigning group March for Change has also launched a petition calling on the government to recognise long COVID as an occupational disease for frontline workers.
Estimates show that around 390,000 people in the UK are living with long COVID, while a BMA survey in December showed that around 5% of doctors were suffering from continuing coronavirus symptoms several weeks after contracting COVID-19.
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul has called on the government to immediately increase efforts to protect staff and start to repay ‘a debt of gratitude’.
The letter to Mr Johnson was sent from the All Party Parlimantary Group on Coronavirus, which is aiming to ensure lessons are learned from the UK’s handling of the pandemic. Its chair Layla Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon wrote that frontline workers should be given greater financial support.
She said: ‘Many of those who are living with long COVID are frontline NHS and social care workers, who put their lives on the line to save the lives of others.
‘The long-term consequences for those affected and their families will be devastating, both in terms of their health and in terms of the economic impact on their lives. The government called on frontline workers to support our country… and now it’s time for the government to grant [these] workers the recognition compensation and support that they and their families needed and deserve.
‘Once more, we urge you to launch a compensation scheme for frontline and key workers who contracted COVID-19 while battling the pandemic and are now living with the debilitating effects of long COVID.’
Ms Moran added that other countries, such as France and Germany, had already recognised COVID-19 as an occupation disease. She argued that a UK compensation scheme had to go beyond existing sick pay schemes and be specific to those living with long COVID.
‘Our frontline and key workers are the true heroes of the pandemic and further delay in launching this compensation scheme would be a dereliction of duty and would amount to abandoning the very people to whom we owe the most,’ she said.
Long Covid must be registered as an “occupational disease” for frontline staff.
We’re calling for NHS staff who contract #LongCovid and can’t work to be fully compensated.
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) February 18, 2021
Backing calls for a long-COVID compensation scheme for frontline workers, Dr Nagpaul said: ‘After being exposed to increased risk working on the frontline during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are now healthcare workers across the country living with the long-term, debilitating impacts of having caught the virus.
‘We have heard harrowing stories from doctors suffering with long COVID, who are often unable to work, threatening their financial stability and affecting their lives at home. The dedication and selflessness shown by healthcare workers over the last year, and the debt of gratitude owed to them, cannot be underestimated.
‘While the government and employers must increase efforts to protect staff now and stop them contracting COVID-19 in the first place, for some it is already too late. So it is only right that ministers urgently provide a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff and their families who are now living with the devastating after-effects of COVID-19.’
Practices are able to apply for reimbursement to cover staff with long COVID via the £150m COVID fund. However, this funding has been allocated for several different purposes and only applies until the end of March. Guidance from NHS Employer states that clinicians with COVID-19 should receive ‘full pay inclusive of all enhancements’, but practices aren’t contractually obliged to do this.
Labour shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Allin-Khan – an A&E doctor – warned last month that high rates of COVID-19 infection and the impact of long COVID could ‘wreak havoc’ on the NHS workforce.
This week the government announced it was providing £18.5m to fund four research studies to better understand and address the longer term effects of long COVID on physical and mental health.