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Long Covid: health workers take case to court

Nurses are among almost 70 health workers with long Covid who are jointly taking their case for compensation to the High Court.

They are seeking a group litigation against the NHS and other employers as they are all claiming that they were not provided with enough protection from Covid-19 at work.

“We feel like cannon fodder in a war with an invisible enemy”

Rachel Hext

A hearing was being held today and GA Solicitors, which is working the case, said it “marks the first step in a legal process to group cases and set a trial date”.

The health workers are based in England and Wales and among them is Rachel Hext.

Ms Hext was working as a nurse in a community hospital in Devon at the time that she caught Covid-19 and then later developed long Covid, in 2020.

She said the legal action was “the result of nearly four years of being ignored or paid lip service to”.

“We never wanted to be heroes, we just wanted to be able to do our part, without the fear of disability and career loss,” she added.

“Would we send builders to work without hard hats or police without anti-stab or bullet-proof vests? No, so why are we any different?

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“We feel like cannon fodder in a war with an invisible enemy.”

Ms Hext is among a team that leads the Keyworker Petition Campaign.

As part of this campaign, the team handed in a petition to Downing Street almost a year ago calling for a compensation and pension scheme for key workers with long Covid.

The petition was backed by more than 126,000 signatures, but Ms Hext said it had “never been acknowledged by Downing Street or anyone in government”.

“It’s high time that the devastation long Covid has caused to frontline workers, their families and the workforce of the UK is acknowledged and compensated accordingly,” added Ms Hext.

“As the UK governments have made no provision for us in the nearly four years since long Covid was first diagnosed, we have been left with no other option but to start legal proceedings.

“We need to stand with our European counterparts and ensure long Covid is declared an occupational disease. Enough is enough.”

Cass Macdonald, whose own experience with long Covid ended their career as a nurse, works alongside Ms Hext on the Keyworker Petition Campaign.

Mx Macdonald said Ms Hext had the full backing of the campaign team.

They told Nursing Times: “It’s now been four years in which people have lost their health, their jobs, their careers, some have even lost their homes.

“We understand why they feel the need to pursue their employers and the NHS for compensation.

“Because we understand the dire situation many of them find themselves in and we back them 100%.”

From right, Rachel Hext, Sarah Sutton and Cass Macdonald delivering the petition

Mx Macdonald, based in Edinburgh, told Nursing Times they were considering an individual legal case of their own in Scotland.

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They said they lost their job last August and that their nurse registration had now lapsed as a result, while their health condition was “not improving”.

“I’m no longer a nurse, I was unable to revalidate last year, so I’m no longer on the register. My career’s over,” said Mx Macdonald, who was previously an audit and surveillance nurse.

“I’m actually having another one of my bad runs again, so I’m not managing to get dressed very often.

“I’m now in a wheelchair, I can just about potter around the house, but I need a wheelchair if I want to leave the house and it’s a powered wheelchair at that.

“I’m not improving. And here in Scotland, we have an ongoing battle to try and get recognition and even decent health care.”

A snapshot survey by Nursing Times at the start of 2023 found that almost one in 10 (9.5%) of the nursing staff who responded had long Covid.

Those with long Covid told how the condition had forced them out of the profession and altered their lives “beyond recognition”.

Some were preparing to lose their house and cars, while others described feeling like the “shadow of the person” they once were.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “Throughout the pandemic the government acted to save lives and livelihoods, prevent the NHS being overwhelmed and deliver a world-leading vaccine rollout which protected millions of lives across the nation.

“We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic and we are committed to learning from the Covid-19 Inquiry’s findings which will play a key role in informing the government’s planning and preparations for the future.

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“We will consider all recommendations made to the department in full.”

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