Intended for healthcare professionals


Clinicians with long covid must get financial support, say unions

BMJ 2023; 383 doi: (Published 17 November 2023) Cite this as: BMJ 2023;383:p2723
  1. Abi Rimmer
  1. The BMJ

The BMA and the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) have asked the government to designate long term conditions caused by covid-19 as occupational diseases. This would mean that staff with these conditions could receive financial assistance in recognition that they had, most probably, caught the initial infection at work.

In November last year the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) published a paper recommending that five specific conditions be added to a list of prescribed diseases for which industrial injuries disability benefit is payable.1 The five conditions include persisting pneumonitis or lung fibrosis after acute covid-19 pneumonitis and persisting pulmonary hypertension caused by a pulmonary embolism developing between three days before and 90 days after a diagnosis of covid-19. Ischaemic stroke and myocardial infarction developing within 28 days of a covid-19 diagnosis are also among the five conditions, as are symptoms of post intensive care syndrome after ventilatory support treatment for covid-19.

The recommendation was made specifically for hospitals and other healthcare workers, as well as care home and home care workers, who were working with patients in the two weeks before their covid-19 infection. The government has not yet responded to the IIAC’s paper, but it is carrying out an assessment of the recommendations, after which it will provide a formal response.

On 15 November this year, the BMA and the RCN wrote to Mel Stride, secretary of state for work and pensions, urging him to act on the IIAC’s recommendations. The letter said that long covid had had debilitating effects on numerous doctors and nursing and midwifery staff, many of whom were left unable to work.

In the letter, BMA council chair Philip Banfield and RCN chief nurse Nicola Ranger wrote, “Over 50 countries worldwide already provide formal legal recognition for key workers who contracted covid-19 as a result of workplace exposure and offer corresponding compensation and support schemes.”

Kelly Fearnley, chair and co-founder of Long Covid Doctors for Action, said that having the five recommended conditions prescribed as an occupational disease was a welcome first step, but the symptomatology of long covid extended far beyond them. “As it currently stands, many doctors who are significantly injured or disabled with, for example, severe autonomic dysfunction, cognitive impairment, autoimmune disorders, and disabling fatigue, would not meet current criteria.”

Earlier this year, several doctors described their struggles with long covid to The BMJ.2 Rachel Ali, a GP from Devon, said that it had completely upended her life. “I can’t do things with my kids; I can’t do things with my partner. I can’t drive for more than half an hour. And I can’t work. And I really want to,” Ali said.

Emergency medicine doctor Sarah Mason-Whitfield said that she was physically fit and her cognitive tests were in the superior range before she contracted covid-19. “Now I have to go up and down stairs on my bottom, and I can’t even do my daughter’s maths homework. My cognitive domains are low average to impaired, which is in the learning disability range.”

A government spokesperson said, “We recognise that long covid has debilitating impacts on people’s physical and mental health and are backing our world leading scientists with over £50m to better understand the long term effects of this virus and make treatments available. 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.

“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.”