Long Covid forces 10,000 NHS staff off sick for longer than three months

Unions warn medical staff missing work with illness are being ‘bullied and punished’

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Thursday 16 June 2022 00:05 BST
<p>Staff reported feeling unsupported by NHS employers over long Covid sickness  </p>

Staff reported feeling unsupported by NHS employers over long Covid sickness

More than 10,000 NHS staff have been off sick for more than three months following long Covid since the start of the pandemic, new data has revealed.

Union bosses have warned that NHS staff with long Covid have felt “bullied” and have struggled to get support from their employers when taking time off.

An investigation published in The Pharmaceutical Journal found that at least 10,370 NHS staff members have been off sick for 12 weeks or more since February 2020.

The revelation comes as the number of people in the UK with long Covid hit record highs earlier this month, with more than 2 million recorded as having symptoms by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS has also found more 4.55 per cent of people working within healthcare have reported long Covid symptoms, while 3.55 per cent suspected they have had it for at least 12 weeks.

According to a survey by Unison in April of 1,916 NHS staff, 46 per cent said their employer was initially supportive of long Covid, but that this changed as time went on.

The survey also found that nearly one in 10 NHS workers with long Covid had been asked to attend a formal absence hearing, and 2 per cent reported being threatened with disciplinary action or with the loss of their jobs.

Kim Sunley, Unison’s health and safety lead, told The Pharmaceutical Journal staff have reported feeling “bullied and punished” by employers.

She said: “Some have returned to work before they’ve fully recovered, fearful they’ll face disciplinary action or even lose their jobs”

Raymond Agius, co-chair of the British Medical Association occupational medicine committee, said the union had “heard accounts of some [NHS staff] who have struggled to secure the adjustments they need to make a successful return to work”.

He said: “This is deeply concerning, and failures to provide appropriate support can lead to staff being lost to the NHS entirely – which is bad for the employee, bad for patients, and bad for the NHS as a whole, exacerbating retention problems and pressures on the remaining workforce.”

Commenting on The Pharmaceutical Journal’s findings, Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, an organisation which represents NHS trusts, said the data “is a clear reminder of the real risk that Covid-19 can continue to have on people’s lives long after the first symptoms”.

He said: “As with all long-term illnesses, NHS organisations are doing everything they can to support their staff who experience long Covid return to their roles.

“This will include holding regular conversations to understand their specific needs and whether any changes should be made to their working arrangements that might support a return to work.”

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