The Government is failing to provide ‘adequate support’ for NHS staff with long Covid, the BMA has said, with just two weeks left until pay provisions for the condition are cut.
The association said that there is still a ‘significant burden of long-term illness’ from Covid-19, which is likely to increase as people continue to contract the virus, despite the lower risk afforded by vaccinations.
It comes as long Covid pay provisions – including full-pay for Covid-related illness and assurance that Covid-related absences will not trigger HR measures – are set to end in full in two weeks.
The BMA said that some doctors who are currently unable to work will struggle to cover bills and necessities, which without proper support would likely lead to a greater workforce crisis in the NHS.
It described it as a ‘slap in the face’ for those staff who put themselves at risk of Covid working through the pandemic.
In a new report, the association called on the Government to keep those payment provisions in place until it can implement a long-term solution.
According to the report, the Government should also recognise long Covid as an occupational disease and provide adjustments to staff returning to work, and set up a long-term compensation scheme for those who are unable to return to their previous roles.
The BMA also criticised the ambiguous guidance as to how the General Practice Covid Capacity Expansion Fund could be used to cover the cost of long Covid related sick pay, which meant provision varied in primary care.
It said: ‘This Covid-19 funding was not recurrent and has now ended, which limits how sick pay is provided in primary care. For example, GPs could apply for funding from their CCG for locum reimbursement, however this was only provided for a maximum of six months – thereafter, it was at the discretion of the CCG.’
Professor Philip Banfield, chair of council at the BMA, said: ‘In the context of a worsening cost of living crisis, staff are having to ask themselves impossible questions. Do I return to work early, knowing that my symptoms could impact my performance, and by extension, patient safety, or do I sacrifice my income by staying at home?
‘For those unable to return to work at all, many are worried about how they will continue to pay their mortgage, or if they can afford to even feed their families. Putting staff in this position is totally unacceptable, which is why we urgently need proper support for staff and a compensation scheme for those who need it.’
He added it was ‘appalling’ for the Government to ‘not support them in return’.
The BMA also called for:
- Detailed data collection on the prevalence and presentation of Long Covid
- Increased funding for research and infrastructure
- Preventing Long Covid in children
- Support for health professionals to identify and treat Long Covid
- Funding and resources to establish multidisciplinary services
- Improved financial and wider support for people unable to work due to Long Covid
- Improved support and compensation scheme for doctors and health care workers who have Long Covid.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Since the start of the pandemic, we have delivered over 21.4 billion items of PPE to frontline health and care staff, reflecting the huge efforts made to protect them in their vital work to combat this dreadful disease. As a nation, we remain in their debt.
‘As we are living with Covid, the temporary non-contractual guidance that was put in place at the height of the pandemic has been withdrawn, and staff who are on Covid sickness pay will move back to the normal arrangements.
‘This provides generous support for NHS staff with up to six months full pay and six months half pay, depending on length of service.’