Who’s clapping now? UK healthcare workers long-suffering from Covid left behind | Kelly Fearnley and Shaun Peter Qureshi

youFrontline doctors at K, like the rest of our NHS colleagues, stepped up to provide medical care for patients with Covid-19 from the start of the pandemic, long before any Covid vaccines were available. Most were not furloughed or able to stay home, but continued to provide healthcare, at considerable risk to themselves.

Today, like tens of thousands of other healthcare workers, we suffer from chronic illness and disability – long Covid – as a result of an infection acquired in the workplace. It now appears that workers who have risked their lives to provide essential medical care are facing not only chronic disease and organ damage, but also potentially financial misery. It is morally indefensible that healthcare workers in this position are now abandoned.

Long Covid is a chronic, debilitating physical disease affecting multiple organs, occurring in individuals after infection with Sars-CoV-2. It manifests itself in a myriad of potential complications, including damage to the heart, lungs or brain; nervous system disorders; blood clots; Memory dysfunction; and crippling levels of fatigue. The number of people living with long Covid in the UK is now estimated at around 2 million.

The rate of Covid-19 caused by exposure in the workplace is about four times higher among health and social care workers than among workers in all sectors. In addition, health and social service workers are Seven times more likely to have had severe Covid-19 than other workers. At least 199,000 NHS workers are currently living with long Covid. This is in addition to more than 2,100 health and social service workers who have lost their lives to Covid-19.

This degree of long acquired Covid in the workplace demonstrates failures in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) policy to adequately protect staff. Much of this viral exposure has occurred in the context of inadequate PPE or, in some cases, no PPE at all.

Additionally, there is, so far, no cure or disease-modifying medical treatment available for long Covid. Despite getting this condition in the NHS service, we were left without adequate care from the NHS. We are left to languish and told to simply “wait and see”. Well, while we wait in the hope of a spontaneous recovery, many healthcare workers, who don’t have substantive jobs with the NHS, have already lost their jobs. We have heard reports of colleagues in this situation – including primary and locum care staff – losing their homes and having to file for bankruptcy. Other healthcare workers, those in long-term direct employment with the NHS, have had better job protection – so far.

Across the UK, Covid absence policies have recently been updated, meaning NHS workers who are ill with long Covid are now vulnerable to disciplinary absence proceedings and loss of job, career and income. Although UK nations vary in the specific details of these policy changes, it is clear that ‘special Covid leave’ must end imminently for UK NHS workers with a chronic Covid-related illness. . In other words, financial support for NHS staff who are unwell with long Covid will end, and staff who are currently absent with long Covid will soon face formal absence processes. This replacement of “special leave” with normal sickness processes has the potential to quickly escalate into dismissal. We are already hearing stories from colleagues whose employers are preparing disciplinary proceedings.

The NHS is already in the midst of a staffing crisis. Figures show the number of vacancies in the health service in England recently stood at 110,192, including a shortage of 39,652 nurses and 8,158 doctors. It is therefore myopic to stop supporting NHS workers suffering from long Covid. The loss of these workers in the profession will be a huge brain drain and a loss for the NHS. We are a skilled and hard-to-replace workforce.

We welcome the recent statement issued by the British Medical Association (BMA) condemning the employment policy change for NHS workers with long-term Covid as ‘completely unacceptable’. But words are not enough. We have to wonder how things got this far. The BMA must step up and prevent the enormous damage that will be done to individuals, to our profession and to the NHS, by the dismissal and loss of careers of doctors and other healthcare workers who have long been sick with Covid. Along with a group of over 200 other doctors, we have written an open letter to the BMA, calling on them to take effective action. We need the group to better defend its members who are now threatened with dismissal and loss of career and future income.

We very much hope that the BMA can fulfill its role as an advocacy group to exert influence, turn the tide on government policy and ensure continued support for doctors and other healthcare workers who have long been sick with Covid, as has happened. produced in other European countries.

Meanwhile, as tens of thousands of us NHS workers face this precarious and frightening situation, we can’t help feeling that we have been treated as if we were expendable and we are now abandoned. Somehow, the faint memory of people clapping and banging pots and pans on Thursday nights doesn’t quite make up for that.

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Edward L. Robinett