Speaking in a House of Commons debate on 14 January on long COVID, Labour shadow minister for mental health Dr Rosena Allin-Khan – an A&E doctor – warned that the government must do more to protect frontline NHS staff.
Estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that by the end of November last year around one in 11 people in England had had COVID-19 – a figure that is likely to have soared as the current wave of the pandemic accelerated through December and the start of 2021.
Dr Allin-Khan warned that NHS workers were three times more likely than the general population to contract COVID-19 – and that absences caused by the illness and high prevalence of long COVID threatened to hit the NHS workforce hard.
MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Layla Moran revealed that 300,000 people are living with long COVID in the UK, with one in five experiencing COVID symptoms five weeks after contracting the disease. A total of 186,000 report suffering with it for 5-12 weeks, and one in 10 for longer than 12 weeks.
A BMA survey in December found that 5% of doctors were suffering from ‘continuing symptoms several weeks’ after they contracted coronavirus – rising from 4% in October. In August the BMA warned of ‘significant levels’ of long-term COVID-19 symptoms in patients and doctors.
MPs have called for the government to make long COVID an occupational disease, and demanded better financial support for those suffering with the illness, as well as better reporting and research on long COVID.
Dr Allin-Khan told MPs: ‘The symptoms of long COVID can be severe, completely debilitating and utterly crippling, and prevent people from living their normal lives. This impact can have a detrimental effect on people’s mental health, their wellbeing and their physical wellbeing.
‘It leaves many unable to return to work months after their initial battle with the virus and causes a great deal of uncertainty on already anxious minds… and many people with long-COVID don’t know when or if they’ll return to work.
‘Key workers have an increased risk of catching COVID-19, NHS workers are three times more likely to contract it than the general population and this could wreak havoc on our frontline workforce.’
The Tooting MP added: ‘What steps are the government taking to not only protect the NHS workforce further, but to ensure that staffing levels are such that patients continue to be treated and the population continues to be vaccinated?’
Health minister Nadine Dorries told MPs that the government continued to work closely with the NHS to deliver high quality services for patients, and make rapid progress with research efforts. It recently revealed its five-point package to support Long COVID patients.
In August the BMA’s medical academic staff committee co-chair Dr David Strain argued it ws imperative that the government does more to protect the medical community from infection. ‘It’s not surprising that medical staff, who have been at the frontline during this crisis sometimes in far from ideal circumstances, have experienced high rates of infection – but it is not acceptable,’ he said.