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Tens of thousands of NHS workers are suffering with ‘long Covid’

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Issue 2749
Around 122,000 health workers have long Covid, putting stain the underfunded and understaffed health service
Around 122,000 health workers have long Covid, putting stain the underfunded and understaffed health service (Pic: Guy Smallman)

Over a million workers in Britain have been hit by devastating “long Covid”. 

It’s affecting workers lives, often hideously. And with around 122,000 of them working in the NHS,  it’s worsening the strain on the health service.

The figures come from an Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on Friday. It showed that  1.1 million people in Britain are affected by the condition. 

They include 114,000 teachers and 30,000 social care workers.

Many of those struggling with long Covid are only able to work part-time—if at all. They often cannot carry out their usual tasks and may need time off because they are in pain or exhausted

Many have problems with memory or concentration—what some call “brain fog”.

Samantha Ellingham works on a surgical ward in a hospital. She contracted Covid-19 at work in April 2020 and has been on sick leave ever since.

“Throughout the months I just didn’t get better, I couldn’t understand it,” she told the Unison union.

“ I didn’t know what was going on to be honest. I got more and more symptoms.” 

Samantha described 54 symptoms she has experienced since having the virus, including breathlessness and joint pain.

“Before I caught Covid-19 I was the most hyperactive person, no one could keep up with me,” she said. “I’m a busy person.

Year one—workers’ lives in the age of Covid
Year one—workers’ lives in the age of Covid
  Read More

“Now some days I can’t even walk. Even getting down the stairs is difficult.

“If I’ve put a wash on, I’ve done something. It might be all I can do for the whole day.”

A Facebook group for doctors with long Covid has 1,200 members.

Dr Sarah Burns and Dr Sue Warren the GPs who set up the group, described what it’s like for doctors incapacitated due to long Covid. They feel “intense feelings of failure and grief for leaving colleagues with increased workloads and not personally contributing to the ‘fight against Covid’.”  

“This self-stigmatisation and shame is common among sick doctors,” they said.

“A small but not insignificant number have been asked to leave roles due to prolonged sick leave.” 


As with everything else about coronavirus, it is poorer people who are worst affected. The ONS said, “Prevalence rates of self-reported long Covid were greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with a pre-existing, activity-limiting health condition.” 

The figures bring home that even when the number of deaths from Covid-19 falls, there is still a terrible toll from the pandemic.

And the pandemic is far from over. The latest figures show that in 117 out of 315 English local authorities’ positivity rates have increased week on week.

Case rates for ages 20-59 and over 60s remain stable or have reduced slightly in most regions.

But cases per 100,000 per week for the under 20s have risen week on week in most regions.

As mathematical biologist Kit Yates says, “There have been clear rises in the under 20 cohort since schools reopened”.

And the R number—the average number of people someone with coronavirus will go on to infect—is probably rising.

England’s R number could be as high as 1 and case numbers may have stopped shrinking, according to government scientists’ latest estimates.

The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) estimates England’s latest R number to be between 0.8 and 1. That’s up from between 0.7 and 0.9 across the whole of Britain last week.

The fight for workplace safety cannot be abandoned. It certainly can’t be left to bosses.

A TUC survey of more than 2,000 union safety representatives published this week showed that one in four were unaware of a risk assessment taking place in their workplace in the last two years.

And there has to be pressure on employers in the public and private sectors not to penalise those with long Covid.

Unions and workplace activists must push bosses not to treat any illness related to the virus as standard sickness absence. In most usual sick pay schemes prolonged days off leads to “capability triggers”—and the sack.

Chile shows dangers of return to business as usual 

A warning about the dangers of “ vaccine success” leading to premature loosening of restrictions comes from Chile in South America.

It has seen one of the fastest vaccination campaigns with at least one jab administered to a third of its 18 million population.

But a  swift return to “business as usual” has led to a terrifying spike in Covid-19 cases.

Daily infections are at record levels. Intensive care beds are scarce and one hospital, in the coastal city of Valparaiso, has run out of space in its morgue and is now storing bodies in the hallways.

President Sebastian Pinera has belatedly ordered a new lockdown.

That will turn the screw further on the 70 percent of the population earning below £500 a month and the 82 percent of adults who live in debt. 

The lockdown has postponed elections to draw up a new constitution following months of protests in 2019-20.

Leading activist Giovanna Grandon, a school bus driver in Santiago, is standing as a candidate. She has not been able to work since the pandemic started, and said the government is not taking sufficient care of people in vulnerable positions.

She is campaigning under the slogan “Total quarantine with social support NOW”.

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