The British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Nursing (RCN) are asking the Government to make urgent progress on supporting healthcare workers with Long Covid, a year after the Government’s scientific advisory board on industrial injuries made recommendations for ministers to do so.
A year ago today, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) published a paper outlining a large body of evidence showing that there is a significantly increased risk of Covid-19, subsequent illness and death for health and social care workers, and therefore recommended to the Government that five specific conditions, resulting from complications of Covid-19 be prescribed as an occupational disease for health and social care workers1.
However, to date, the Government has not responded to this paper at all.
Designation as an occupational disease would mean staff with these long-term physical conditions caused by Covid-19 could receive specific financial assistance in recognition that they had, more than likely, caught the initial infection at work. This, the BMA and RCN say, would mark a significant first step towards recognising Long Covid, and the broader range of symptoms it includes, as an occupational disease in health and social care workers.
The BMA and RCN have now written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions2 urging him to act on the paper’s recommendations, noting that more than 50 countries worldwide already provide formal legal recognition for key workers who contracted Covid-19 as a result of workplace exposure, and offer corresponding compensation and support schemes.
This comes after the results of a major BMA survey of doctors with Long Covid earlier this year revealed that 77% of those who caught Covid-19 in the first wave of the pandemic believed that they contracted it in the workplace and almost one in five (18%) reported they were now unable to work due to their post-acute Covid ill-health.
In their letter to Mel Stride, BMA council chair Professor Philip Banfield and RCN chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger write:
“Long Covid has had debilitating effects on numerous doctors, nursing and midwifery staff, many of whom were previously left – or remain – unable to work. This has led to significant financial penalties. For example, nearly half of doctors with Long Covid responding to a BMA survey reported experiencing decreased (or even no) income, requiring those with savings to use them to make ends meet, and increased personal debt.”
They add: “The UK Government needs to act quickly and provide support now to the many doctors, nursing and midwifery staff and their families who have suffered significant financial losses as a result of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace and then developing Long Covid.”
Commenting, Professor Banfield said: “A year after the IIAC made clear recommendations for the Government to recognise the increased risk that health and social care workers face from Covid-19 and its potentially devastating long-term health effects – and so far there’s been silence in response from ministers
“Doctors and their colleagues were betrayed during the pandemic when they were left unprotected as they continued to go to work and confront this deadly disease on a daily basis. Now those who are suffering the long-term impacts are being betrayed once again.
“Making these conditions an occupational disease cannot give healthcare workers back the quality of life and ability to work stolen by Covid-19, but it would be an important first step in providing much-needed financial support to staff living with the long-term effects.
“After going above and beyond in caring for people during the pandemic and contracting the virus and often becoming seriously ill as a result, it’s shameful that doctors and their colleagues are being financially penalised too.”
Professor Ranger said: “Nursing staff tell us their lives have been forever changed by Long Covid. Its physical impact coupled with long-term financial insecurity is causing them continued worry.
“They have been doubly let down by this government – which first failed to provide adequate protection against a deadly virus and subsequently left thousands unsupported whilst facing the often-debilitating consequences of Long Covid.
“Ministers have had a year to act and are now falling behind other countries who have given formal legal recognition to Long Covid as an industrial disease.”