Long Covid health workers to team up in mass lawsuit

The NHS is facing a mass legal challenge from potentially hundreds of health workers with long Covid across England and Wales, including nurses.

The health workers are claiming that their employers failed to provide them with sufficient protection to stop them from catching Covid-19 at work.

“I hope this progress gives a morale boost to those of us who have been fighting for this recognition”

Rachel Hext

They are seeking compensation for the devastating impact that they say long Covid has had on their lives and their careers.

An initial hearing was held at the Royal Courts of Justice King’s Bench division on Wednesday where GA Solicitors put forward its case on behalf of 67 health workers.

However, the judge, Senior Master Cook, noted that there were many other health workers with long Covid beyond the initial 67 who were considering legal action.

For example, Bond Turner Solicitors has been preparing a similar case for a cohort of more than 100 health workers, including members of the Long Covid Doctors for Action Group.

As a result, Senior Master Cook made an order for all cases involving health workers with long Covid to be brought together and tried as a group litigation titled “NHS Healthcare Worker Covid Claims”.

The solicitors will now work together to build their case ahead of the next scheduled court date in October 2024.

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Both GA Solicitors and Bond Turner told Nursing Times that the number of health workers getting in touch with them about long Covid was increasing day by day.

The deadline for further health workers to join the case is 5 July 2024 and it is only open to people in England and Wales.

From right, Rachel Hext, Sarah Sutton and Cass Macdonald delivering a long Covid petition to No 10

Rachel Hext (far right), delivering a long Covid keyworkers petition to No.10 alongside fellow campaigners

Rachel Hext is among the nurses with long Covid being represented by GA Solicitors and she was at the hearing on Wednesday.

Speaking to Nursing Times, Ms Hext said she was disappointed that the trial could not get started straight away, but was still pleased with the overall outcome.

“I am disappointed that there are more delays for the people who have already been in the legal system for their cases for three years plus, when they need the financial assistance now,” she said.

“However, I am really pleased with the work of Kevin [Digby] and the team at GA Solicitors, and this outcome means that there won’t be a ‘them and us’ situation with the other group of NHS staff suing, but that we will be going through this together.

“We are all fighting for the same thing and it makes sense that we can be there to support each other, when that is exactly what the long Covid community has done since the very beginning.”

She added: “I hope this progress gives a morale boost to those of us who have been fighting for this recognition.

“It’s already been a long four years and, with so many job losses in recent times for those of us with long Covid, it’s crucial that we are able to keep up chins up and move forward together in these testing times.”

“Most of these people aren’t in work, they’ve been sacked, they’ve lost their job, they’ve lost their careers”

Kevin Digby

Kevin Digby, the lead solicitor on the case with GA Solicitors, told Nursing Times that, ahead of October, they would need to agree the “core issues that are going to be tried at trial” with the defendants.

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He said these core issues were likely to focus around whether the right personal protective equipment (PPE) was given to health workers and whether PPE guidance was appropriate.

One of the main points likely to be raised from the employer side in its defence was how it can be proven that the health workers caught Covid-19 at work, noted Mr Digby.

However, the trial is not expected to begin for at least 18 months and is likely to be set for some time during 2026.

Asked what a win would mean for the nurses involved, Mr Digby said: “Most of these people aren’t in work, they’ve been sacked, they’ve lost their job, they’ve lost their careers.

“So, what it will mean for each one of those individuals is that they will actually get some compensation to get their life back on track.”

Representatives from Bond Turner Solicitors were present in the court on Wednesday to listen to the proceedings.

Sara Stanger, director and head of clinical negligence and serious injury, and Melanie Burden, head of employer’s liability, described the group approach to the case called for by the judge as a “modern” one.

In a statement for Nursing Times, they said one the motivators behind this approach was to protect court resources, as it would be more cost effective to hear all the cases together rather than individually.

They said there was still time for further health workers, who were concerned that they developed long Covid from working in a healthcare setting, to join the claim.

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To date, they said they had received more than 300 expressions of interest from health workers wanting to join the group.

They said: “The ‘NHS Healthcare Worker Covid Claims’ is not intended to be managed solely by any one firm of claimant solicitors. It is likely that both Bond Turner and GA Solicitors will have the largest cohorts of clients.

“The intention will be to work collaboratively with any other claimant solicitors, including GA, and also the defendants to reflect the new modern style of litigation which the judge, Senior Master Cook, wants to encourage for cases of this scale and significance.

“We welcome the fact that this will create access to justice for all healthcare workers,” they added.

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.

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

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