An analysis by BBC Panorama found that 5,000 to 10,000 NHS workers will experience pay cuts due to changes in covid sickness policy. It is known that these changes were implemented as a follow-up to the end of the special paid leave that the NHS had for workers suffering from covid-related illness in July 2022.
In August 2022, the NHS issued a formal notice period to detransition into normal contractual agreements. This meant that any workers taking absence due to any illness are now entitled to the normal level of sick pay.
These changes meant that NHS workers who suffer from long covid, causing them unable to work, will no longer receive full pay. Unions are now demanding the government for better treatment of health staff who worked during the pandemic.
Policy During Covid
The requirement to self-isolate due to covid has been withdrawn since February 2022. Since then, regulations have been phased out to revert regulations to pre-covid conditions. As it stands, in the UK there are no more pandemic-related restrictions that must be followed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Department of Health and Social Care introduced a temporary non-contractual sick leave to ensure full payment is received by workers if they need to self-isolate due to covid.
It is known that some workers were given a six-month transition period for this change, but it will end soon. The end of this transition meant that individuals who must take absences due to long covid will no longer have any additional support.
Long Covid Sufferers at Risk
Long covid is described by the NHS as a condition where covid symptoms last longer than 12 weeks. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell, muscle aches, “brain fog” and chest pain.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the UK, 2.1 million people or 3.3% of the population experience self-reported long covid. Of these individuals, 1.1 million or 50% reported they have had it after at least one year since infection, and 24% at least two years.
Data has shown that long covid presents adverse effects in some individuals. Many have reported that their health has become very limited, causing them unable to do regular daily tasks and even leave work.
Many are comparing the UK government’s current policies to support healthcare workers are inadequate compared to other countries. With the economic downturn, the government is now called to provide better financial support for health workers who were the frontline workers during the pandemic.
Some have recommended that organisations must take long covid into consideration for internal policies. Employers should provide reasonable adjustments for employees that suffer from long covid. These adjustments may be in the form of additional days off for rest, adjusting working hours or allocating alternative roles.
The NHS’ decision to change the sick pay policy will affect their workers who suffer from long covid. Considering that healthcare workers were the ones who handled the pandemic first-hand, it would be a shame if they are left unsupported post-pandemic.