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New benefits plea for nurses and doctors with long Covid

Nursing and doctor unions have again urged the UK Government to recognise long Covid as an occupational disease for healthcare workers.

In a letter to the Department for Welfare and Pensions (DWP), Royal College of Nursing (RCN) chief nurse Professor Nicola Ranger and British Medical Association (BMA) council chair Professor Phil Banfield jointly wrote that it was “crucial” that long Covid was given the designation due to the “debilitating” effects it has had on nursing and midwifery staff and doctors.

“Long Covid has had debilitating effects on numerous doctors, nursing and midwifery staff”

Nicola Ranger and Phil Banfield

Professor Ranger and Professor Banfield said the DWP should accept recommendations given by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), published in November 2022, on long Covid.

The IIAC’s command paper, titled ‘Covid-19 and Occupational Impacts’, recommended that several long-term symptoms caused by a Covid-19 infection should be added to the government’s list of prescribed diseases for health and social care workers, entitling those with them to industrial injuries disability benefit.

These symptoms included persisting pneumonitis, pulmonary hypertension and post-intensive care syndrome.

The IIAC paper found evidence to suggest patient-facing health and care workers are at significantly increased risk of Covid-19 infection and subsequent longer-term illness or even death.

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Carrying forward the IIAC recommendations, the unions said in their letter, would be the “first step” in recognising long Covid as an occupational disease, also sometimes referred to as an industrial disease.

“A year on we are requesting that the department urgently considers and accepts the recommendations of the command paper,” Professor Ranger and Professor Banfield said.

They continued: “[The IIAC] recommends five specific conditions resulting from complications of Covid-19 be prescribed as an occupational disease for health and social care workers.

“It is crucial that the government acts on IIAC’s recommendations as a first step to recognising long Covid as an occupational disease in health and social care workers.”

“This could enable health and social care workers in the NHS and independent sector with long term physical conditions caused by Covid-19 to receive much needed industrial injuries disability benefit.”

The IIAC paper has yet to receive a formal response from the DWP, but a spokesperson told Nursing Times that one would be issued once the IIAC command paper has been fully assessed.

The unions’ letter continued: “Health and social care workers worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to care for patients and as a result many contracted Covid-19, and subsequently, long Covid.

“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.

“The pandemic health and social care workers put their lives on the line.”

“Nursing staff tell us their lives have been forever changed by long Covid”

Nicola Ranger

The letter mentioned several BMA surveys, which found that medical staff were often not given proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

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Similar surveys by the RCN found that nurses felt significantly put at risk by either pressures to work unsafely, or a lack of access to PPE, particularly among Black and ethnic minority staff.

“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,” the letter said.

The authors warned that “many” nurses, midwives and doctors with long Covid were now facing unemployment due to a lack of financial support and ending of special Covid-19 leave provisions.

Separate to the letter, Professor Ranger added: “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.”

She said these nurses had been “let down” by the government, and urged ministers to follow the foot steps of other countries by giving formal legal recognition to long Covid as an industrial disease.

The demand for the IIAC recommendation to be carried forward is not new.

Earlier this year, RCN general secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen made the same ask of the government, at the opening of an exhibition into nursing during the pandemic emergency period.

A DWP spokesperson said that the department recognised the impact long Covid has had on people’s physical and mental health, and pointed to a recent £50m investment in research by the government.

They added: “We continue to support the NHS workforce with sickness absence and NHS terms and conditions provide generous support for NHS staff with up to six months full pay and six months half pay, depending on length of service.

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“In total, we have invested £314m to establish specialist services throughout England to direct people experiencing long Covid into the right treatment and rehabilitation services, including occupational health services.”

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