Intended for healthcare professionals


Covid-19: Reduction in payments for NHS staff with long term symptoms is “short sighted”

BMJ 2023; 380 doi: (Published 02 February 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;380:p274
  1. Adele Waters
  1. The BMJ

The government has been branded “callous” for pressing ahead with plans to withdraw special financial support for NHS staff who are on sick leave with long covid.

Under the rule change thousands of staff currently off sick with complications from a covid-19 infection in England could see their pay cut in half from next month.

During the covid-19 pandemic normal sick pay rules were suspended for all NHS staff working in hospitals, and special arrangements were put in place to provided full pay if staff needed to self-isolate or became ill from the virus.

However, last July the Department of Health and Social Care announced the end of these arrangements from 7 July 2022.1 Under transition arrangements,2 from 1 September 2022 all staff receiving the special covid sick pay reverted to standard sick pay rules, set out in the terms and conditions of their contracts.

From then on, any staff member absent from work owing to long covid would be able to claim full pay for as long as six months and then half pay for the following six months. Many staff with long covid are expected to get reduced payments from 1 March 2023, when the first six months of the transition period ends.

Matt Kneale, co-chair of the Doctors’ Association UK, said, “The government’s callous and shortsighted decision to end special pay arrangements for NHS workers suffering from long covid, despite their dedication and hard work having gone above and beyond during the pandemic, is not only a failure to recognise their commitment and sacrifices but also a worrying disregard for those still struggling with long term effects of covid.”

Returning to work

The BMA announced a survey on the effects of long covid on its members, Long Covid Doctors for Action (LCD4A), and condemned the end of enhanced sick pay for NHS staff. It said, “We have argued that it will prevent healthcare professionals from accessing appropriate and necessary remuneration and could result in staff being pressured into returning to work before they are fully recovered—causing significant risks to themselves and patients.

“We have repeatedly called for enhanced covid-19 sickness pay provisions to continue until a long term strategy for dealing with covid-19 is in place, one that is underpinned by adequate research, data collection, and sustained investment.”

How many NHS staff have long covid is not known. Figures from January showed 3842 staff from NHS acute trusts in England currently absent from work owing to covid-19.3 A recent estimate by the BBC put the number in the UK’s NHS workforce as high as 10 000.4

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said, “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.”

Similar special covid pay arrangements were in place in the rest of the UK for NHS staff but are similarly being wrapped up. Covid pay arrangements ended in Scotland on 31 August 2022 and in Northern Ireland on 1 October. In Wales changes took effect from 1 July 2022, but staff with long covid can claim full pay for one year from when they went off sick, followed by half pay.

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