We must classify long Covid as an ‘occupational disease’ to protect frontline workers
Care for sufferers of long Covid shouldn’t amount to a postcode lottery, and the government needs to commit to funding a far more comprehensive long Covid care system.
On 5 March 2020, I called NHS 111 to ask for advice. I had been feeling rough and was sure that I had contracted Covid-19. Like everyone else, I had been watching the news reports surrounding the virus for some time. I knew the illness could be incredibly serious for some, but that given my age I would probably recover after a couple of weeks at most.
Over the next year, I continued to live with the nightmarish effects of the virus. Extreme fatigue and brain-fog became a daily aspect of my life, and I had to lean on friends, family and work colleagues for support in a way that I never had before. I was incredibly worried and filled with questions that nobody could categorically answer. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t this illness going? Would I ever recover?
In May of 2020, an Honorary Research Associate in Archaeology at UCL called Dr Elisa Perego was the first to use the term “long Covid,” and in doing so gave a voice to a significant number of people suffering across the globe. Since then, awareness of long Covid has continued to grow. The ONS recently published data which shows that 376,000 people have experienced symptoms of long Covid for at least 12 months, and that an estimated 1 million people in the UK were experiencing symptoms of long Covid in the four weeks leading up to 2 May 2021.
I was angry to read about key workers who contracted long Covid at work losing their jobs on capability grounds when their Statutory Sick Pay ran out
Yet the level of support required to help these individuals still isn’t there. It’s fantastic that more than 60 clinics for long Covid have been rolled out across the country, but the access to care and clinics varies massively dependant on region. Care for sufferers of long Covid shouldn’t amount to a postcode lottery, and the government needs to commit to funding a far more comprehensive long Covid care system.
We also need to see legislation brought forward that economically supports individuals who are battling this horrendous condition. I was angry to read about key workers who most likely contracted long Covid at work losing their jobs on capability grounds when their Statutory Sick Pay ran out. This is no way to treat people who risked everything to tackle an unknown virus in the greatest post-War crisis this nation has faced. That’s why I have supported calls for long Covid to be classed as an “occupational disease” for these frontline workers, which would allow sufferers to access proper economic and employment support. More broadly, we must incentivise workplaces to retain and support their recovering workers.
I also support the recommendations of the APPG on Coronavirus who have called for a national registry to count and publish the number of individuals living with long Covid in the UK. The more information we have on long Covid, the more equipped we will be to tackle the condition and support those who are living with it. For this reason, the government also needs to rapidly fund more research into the condition and the long-term health implications of it.
As the phenomenal vaccine programme continues to bring down hospitalisations, we need to rally around those still living with the effects of the virus. Long Covid is brutal and can feel interminable. As the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the UK, and those in the lower priority vaccination groups contract and pass on the illness, we need to take action to ensure that we have the infrastructure and legislative framework in place to support individuals who are living with - or will live with - long Covid.
Andrew Gwynne is the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish.
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