Frontline healthcare staff unable to work due to the debilitating effects of long Covid should be entitled to a specialist compensation scheme, a leading medical union has said.
he British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland is calling for long Covid to be designated as an occupational disease, as it warned that female workers are more likely to suffer from health complications arising from the virus.
The doctors’ union is urging the government to set up a compensation scheme to help NHS staff whose lives have been destroyed as a result of the long-term effects of Covid-19.
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), 13.2% of people aged between 25 and 34 years old are still suffering from Covid-19 symptoms five weeks after diagnosis.
This rises to 15.3% for 35 to 49-year-olds and 15.2% for 50 to 69-year-olds.
Symptoms include muscle pain, brain fog, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and headaches.
Dr Tom Black, chair of the BMA Council in Northern Ireland, said: “Firstly, we want long Covid recognised as an occupational disease.
“Secondly, we want to see compensation brought in for those healthcare workers who are unable to return to work due to long Covid.
“We asked healthcare workers to put themselves in a dangerous and high-risk environment, to put the public first, so I think it is only reasonable that they are compensated when they are unable to work as a direct result of that.
“We know that 10% of people go on to develop long Covid, but it will be a smaller proportion who go on to experience significant issues indefinitely.
“However, we also know that it is women who are being affected more by long Covid and we think that is because it is an immune condition and women are more predisposed to suffer from immune disorders.”
France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark have already formally recognised long Covid as an occupational disease.
Meanwhile, MPs have urged Prime Minister Boris Johnston to follow suit and offer financial assistance to frontline NHS staff affected by long Covid.
An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus has warned the disease will “likely have an enormous impact” for years to come.
Dr Black continued: “We are seeing doctors who have been off work for months at this stage.
“The main problems they are suffering from is things like profound tiredness, brain fog and myalgia and we have even seen doctors try to go back to work but they’ve had to leave after a few hours because they have developed chest pains.
“It’s a very serious situation where we have an individual’s ability to work, potentially for the rest of their life, being compromised because they caught a virus while at work.”
A spokesman from the Department of Health did not comment on calls for a compensation scheme or whether long Covid will be designated as an occupational condition.
However, he said: “The data on Post Covid-19 syndrome underlines the reality that this virus is not just a threat to the older generation – or those with pre-existing medical symptoms.
“It shows once again that all age groups have to take Covid-19 seriously and do everything they can to stop its spreading.
“It is fully recognised that the needs of patients with Post Covid-19 syndrome will be a long-term priority for the health service in Northern Ireland.
“The NICE guideline on Post Covid-19 syndrome has been fully adopted for Northern Ireland and will now be applied across the health and social care sector.
“The Health and Social Care Board will be developing plans for service provision for patients, taking into account the NICE guidance and developing practice in Great Britain.”