Unions are calling for Long Covid to be recognised as a disability as more than one million UK victims of the disease struggle to recover.
They also want the Government to classify Covid-19 as an occupational disease – entitling workers and their families to claim disability benefits and compensation if they contract the virus while working.
A shock new report into Long Covid which is published today by the TUC reveals that…
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Official figures show that 1.1 million people in the UK are living with the ravages of Long Covid, including 122,000 healthcare workers.
And fears of a third wave grew last night as 10,321 people tested positive for the virus yesterday – 2,583 more than last Saturday. Deaths rose by 14, up two on last Saturday’s toll.
Teenagers and people in their twenties queued to get their first shots at mass vaccination centres set up at football stadiums across London.
Last night, TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Recognising Long Covid as a disability would allow workers to draw on the full legal protections of the Equality Act. It would give workers protection from discrimination at work, access to sick pay and stop employees being forced out of work.”
Most people with coronavirus make a full recovery within 12 weeks – but for some, symptoms have lasted much longer. Medical experts say Long Covid does not appear linked to the severity of the initial illness and can affect people who suffered mild symptoms at first.
More than 3,500 workers – two-thirds of them women – responded to the TUC survey. It highlights how frontline key workers including NHS staff, health and social care workers and teachers have been disproportionately affected by Long Covid.
A fifth said their employer has questioned the impact of their symptoms, with one in eight questioned about whether they had Long Covid at all. One in 20 said they had been forced out of their jobs altogether because they had Long Covid.
Many were also concerned about what the future might hold for them at work, given the amount of sick leave they had been forced to take.
Around one in six said the amount of sick leave they had taken had triggered “absence management or HR processes”.
Dr David Strain, who is heading the British Medical Association’s response to the long-term effects of Covid-19, told the Sunday People: “There is clear evidence that Long Covid is more common in healthcare workers, and they are far more likely to have got Covid at work.
“On those grounds, there is a case for making it an occupational disease. The one thing we’re not certain about is how long Long Covid lasts, which makes it slightly difficult from a legal point of view.”
One man who contracted Covid-19 at work said his employer went ahead with an international event in the first wave of the pandemic.
He said: “I was still expected to work long hours, handle stressful situations in impossible timeframes, find and fill in forms and spend hours on Zoom calls when I struggled to talk and breathe, resulting in extreme chest pain, shortness of breath, exhaustion and relapses.”
Former HR consultant Lesley Macniven, 52, who helped to set up the Long Covid Employment Support Group after failing to recover from the illness last year, says the Government should step in now to protect people from the long-term impact – before is a possible third wave of infections.
The mother of two from Edinburgh, who worked with the TUC on its report, said: “It’s becoming increasingly evident that people are losing their jobs and being marked down for redundancy and not being supported in the way their GP suggested.”
A Government spokesman said: “We have opened over 80 Long Covid assessment services across England and last week the NHS published a £100million plan to expand support, including £30million to help GPs improve diagnosis and care for patients with Long Covid.
“As with any underlying health condition, employers should consider whether an employee with symptoms of long Covid should receive reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act.
“Eligible employees can get statutory sick pay if they’re too ill to work, which is paid by their employer for up to 28 weeks, and some employers may also decide to pay more, and for longer, through occupational sick pay.”
Brave frontline heroes open up about living with Long Covid
“I now rely on crutches to walk”
Nathalie, an NHS doctor from London, cannot walk without crutches after first getting Covid in March 2020.
The 39-year-old says she struggled to get her employer to report her as a Long Covid case.
She said: “Long Covid should absolutely be recognised as an occupational illness for those who acquired it on the frontline. It should also be reported so we can be counted. I struggled to get my employer to report my case to the Health and Safety Executive.
“I definitely picked it up in a clinical setting. I was looking after children on a Covid ward in Great Ormond Street. The PPE was completely inadequate. The second time, I developed pains in my feet. I lost sensation in the soles of my feet and my legs weren’t as strong as they were.
“I have gradually deteriorated over the past year. In September, I had an abrupt episode where I found it difficult to walk. Since December, I have been using crutches.
“Without them, I can’t walk more than 200 metres.”
‘Take pressure off’
Vicky, 55 and a private nurse from Standish, Gtr Manchester, was made redundant while suffering from Long Covid. After being struck down in March 2020, she fears she’ll never work again.
She said: “If Long Covid was classed as an occupational disease, it would take a massive pressure off me financially. It’s taken 15 months to get a lung function test.
“I still have to go up stairs on my hands and knees.
“The charity I was working for made me redundant in August but I can’t apply for other jobs as there is no way I’d be able to do a shift. The brain fog is on another level.
“I don’t get free prescriptions and I’m on all sorts of medication.”
‘Fatigue’s hit my earnings’
Kaveri, an NHS doctor in London, got Covid in March 2020 and says her pay has been cut significantly as she’s unable to cope with full-time hours due to severe fatigue.
The 28-year-old said: “I back the TUC bid to have Long Covid classified as an occupational disease. I’m 90% sure I picked it up in a hospital setting because I came across two patients in that week with fevers and a cough. I had no PPE. We only wore a surgical mask if someone was Covid-positive.
“I highlighted that a patient had a cough and a fever and people weren’t wearing PPE around her. I got in trouble for raising that.
“I was seen in A&E and they found out I had low oxygen. This kept happening. I became a shadow of myself. I’m earning a lot less, as I was working full-time before and I’m working 60% of my hours now.
“I argued my pay should be protected for a year as I got this at work. They said my full-time wage would be if I was off completely but due to going back on reduced hours, my pay has been cut.
“I’m pregnant now. I still have a lot of fatigue and exhaustion. I haven’t had any reassurance about it and I am concerned.”
‘We shared visors’
Hannah, 32, an NHS physio from Birmingham, fell ill while working on a Covid ward in April last year and then faced her pay being cut due to long-term absence.
She said: “I’m certainly backing the TUC’s call for Long Covid to be classified as an occupational disease. I 100% got it at work.
“I came into contact with easily 20 people who were Covid positive.
“We were given general plastic aprons and had to share visors. The visors have a label in Chinese which says ‘not suitable for healthcare use’.
“I was acutely unwell for about three weeks at home, then I would have relapses.
“I had to take time off. I had a conversation with HR at one point and they said they would reduce my pay. I had just bought a house. Worrying about money kept me up at night.”
‘I felt like quitting’
Sheffield nurse Holly, 38, believes she caught Covid while helping to transfer a patient to intensive care without adequate PPE in April 2020.
She now has ongoing problems including heart rate condition postural tachycardia syndrome, which forced her to go part-time.
Backing the TUC campaign, she said: “We’ve been like lambs to the slaughter. Even part-time work is a struggle and I’m losing money. I wonder, ‘Am I going to be able to do this job?
“Can I be on my feet and do ward work, or do I need to do something my body can cope with?’. Quitting crossed my mind.
“We need to hold the Government accountable because Matt Hancock is gaslighting frontline workers – we know our PPE was inadequate. I feel like half the person I was before Covid and feel guilty I can’t do the things I want with my 10-year-old daughter.”