Almost one in five doctors with long Covid are unable to work, while nearly half have experienced some form of loss of earnings, the BMA has warned.
The doctors’ union has made a number of asks to the Government including financial support to doctors and healthcare staff suffering with post-acute Covid, as well as ‘greater workplace protection’.
In the BMA’s survey of just over 600 doctors with long Covid, carried out between December and January, 31% said they were working full-time compared to 57% before their illness began.
And around 60% of doctors responding said their illness has impacted on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities on a regular basis.
The BMA partnered with the support group Long Covid Doctors for Action to deliver the ‘first comprehensive’ survey of doctors with post-acute Covid health complications.
One salaried GP said: ‘I can no longer work, finances are ruined. I didn’t have employment protection so am now unemployed and penniless.’
While a GP locum said they have ‘no ability to earn, no savings remaining’ and they are ‘relying on benefits and benevolent funds’.
Doctors experienced financial issues due to ‘inconsistent access’ to Covid special leave provisions, which have now ended, as well as having used up all their statutory sick leave or annual leave, according to the BMA.
Other key findings from the survey included:
- Doctors reported a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, muscular pain, nerve damage, joint pain, ongoing respiratory problems and many more;
- 18% of respondents reported that they were now unable to work due to their post-acute Covid ill-health;
- 49% of respondents said they have experienced some form of loss of earnings as a result of post-acute Covid;
- More than 65% of respondents said their post-acute Covid symptoms had not been investigated thoroughly and effectively by an NHS long Covid clinic or centre;
- 69% of respondents who contracted Covid in 2020 said they had not been individually risk assessed before acquiring the virus.
The survey also found that 54% of respondents acquired Covid during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020, of which 77% believe they caught it in the workplace.
The report said: ‘The lack of the UK’s preparedness for a major coronavirus pandemic resulted in doctors being systemically exposed to Covid-19 without being able to properly mitigate this risk with effective infection control procedures and PPE, particularly during the first wave of the pandemic.’
It cited lack of individual risk assessments, lack of ‘transparency and consistency’ in the Government’s PPE procurement process, and unsuitable ventilation as factors that increased the risk to doctors during the pandemic.
Professor Raymond Agius, BMA occupational medicine committee co-chair, highlighted in particular the fact that ‘many doctors were denied effective respiratory protective equipment (RPE)’ because this equipment ‘would have considerably reduced their risk of contracting this airborne disease’.
He said: ‘This report underlines the devastating consequences of this lack of protection.
‘Doctors still living with continuing symptoms have once again been left at risk with little to no support from the system that they gave so much to.
‘Those well enough to return to work need support in doing so, while those who are still too sick, need adequate financial compensation to ensure they are not driven to bankruptcy by an illness they caught in the line of duty.
‘Those doctors who may never work again due to the long-term effects of Covid are a huge loss to the workforce when we can least afford it.’
He also said the Government has a ‘moral duty’ to support those suffering with long Covid.
Last year, a study conducted in Spain found that over two-thirds of non-hospitalised patients infected with Covid in the first wave of the pandemic developed long Covid.
In March, a study involving more than 860,000 patients from all over the world found that being vaccinated against Covid halves the risk of developing long Covid.
The BMA’s recommendations to Government:
- Long Covid should be recognised as an occupational disease for healthcare workers;
- A package of financial support should be urgently developed for doctors and healthcare workers with post-acute Covid;
- Clear guidance should be provided to health service employers on the legal requirements to carry out risk assessments and report instances of infection;
- Funding must be allocated for appropriate PPE and RPE in health and care services;
- Access must be increased and waiting times improved for Long Covid care such as NHS Covid clinics;
- This care must be multidisciplinary and offer access to both physical and mental healthcare;
- More occupational medicine training posts must be funded across the UK by health education bodies;
- Timely access to occupational health services and assessments for staff with Long Covid must be prioritised;
- Greater awareness among managers about the needs of Long Covid sufferers must be promoted;
- Health service estates must be safe for staff and risk of infection reduced, including by improved ventilation.