COVID-19 remains a key priority for the BMA. This includes lobbying to ensure adequate protections in healthcare settings for both staff and patients, the provision of support for those with long COVID, lobbying for better resourced public health functions and improved public health protections as well as ensuring lessons are learnt from the pandemic. We continue to closely monitor and respond to COVID-19 data including rates of infection, hospitalisations, deaths and vaccination status.
The BMA is committed to ensuring doctors are adequately protected at work and are able to go about their vital work and treat patients in the knowledge that they are as safe and supported as possible. This is not only essential to the lives of our members and the patients they serve but is critical in tackling the backlog of care. Please see the BMA webpages on NHS backlog and pressure data for more information.
Protections in healthcare settings
As COVID-19 cases are likely to continue to fluctuate, protections for healthcare workers remains a key area of concern for our members and a focus for the BMA’s work.
A failure to properly protect healthcare workers and patients poses a significant risk for spreading COVID infections in healthcare settings, but also places enormous pressure on already overstretched healthcare services. They are also crucial in ensuring that people who are clinically vulnerable to COVID-19 (such as people who are immunosuppressed) can safely access care.
- Strongly opposed the end to COVID-19 special leave for healthcare staff and called for this decision to be reversed. Failure to do so risks staff being pressured into returning to work before they are fully recovered – causing significant risks to themselves and patients.
- Wrote to NHS Trusts in England to remind employers of their legal obligations to undertake risk assessments and for appropriate mitigations against the risks of COVID-19 to staff and patients to be put in place.
- Called for mandatory face masks for patients attending healthcare settings to be reintroduced.
- Called for the reintroduction of asymptomatic testing for patient facing staff.
- Continue to seek opportunities to lobby for access to RPE (respiratory protective equipment) for staff working with confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patients, highlighting the inadequacies in IPC (Infection Prevention Control) guidance and failure to properly recognise the airborne transmission of COVID-19.
- Continue to highlight concerns about the under-reporting and under-investigation of COVID-19 incidences by NHS Trusts and the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations). Our concerns have been covered in several media outlets including the Pharmaceutical Journal and the Guardian.
- Continue to highlight the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people from minority ethnic backgrounds.
Support for those with long COVID
There is a significant and growing number of people in the UK experiencing long COVID, defined by the ONS as those experiencing symptoms more than four weeks after initial infection. ONS data suggests that healthcare workers are reporting symptoms of long COVID at a higher rate than the general population.
The BMA is committed to supporting doctors and other healthcare workers, including lobbying to ensure they have adequate support - financially and otherwise. The BMA is also lobbying for better investment in the monitoring, research and treatment of long COVID in the population.
- Published our report ‘addressing the health challenges of long COVID’ which sets out a series of specific areas for action for government and others to build our understanding of long COVID, support people with long COVID and minimise its ongoing health burden in the UK.
- Published our member support webpage for doctors with long COVID which highlights resources and signposts to support available.
- Wrote to the Secretary of State for health ahead of the COVID sick pay provisions for healthcare workers ending to call for this to be extended and calling for long COVID to be recognised as an occupational disease. We continue to highlight our calls in these areas.
- Planning a survey of doctors to explore their experiences of long COVID to inform our future work in this area.
- Support recommendations from the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC) to government regarding the circumstances in which long COVID should be prescribed as an occupational disease. These recommendations were presented to parliament on 18 November 2022.
- Briefed Baroness Thornton on our key asks ahead of a debate in the House of Lords on the short and long term impacts of long COVID.
- Will work further with Baroness Thornton to table parliamentary questions on the IIAC recommendations, a compensation scheme for doctors with long COVID and research into long COVID.
- Continue to work in collaboration with a group of doctors suffering with long COVID (Long Covid Doctors for Action) as well as other stakeholders to push forward our recommendations on long COVID.
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Resourcing of public health and wider public health protections
Throughout the pandemic, better resourced public health functions and improved measures to protect the public’s health have been a key priority of the BMA.
Failure to adequality protect the population’s health, not only puts those who are immunosuppressed or otherwise vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID-19 at risk, but it is also likely to continue to lead to high cases, putting even more pressure on stretched health services.
- Called for improved and consistent public health messaging and communication to ensure the public are aware of the ongoing risks of COVID-19 and long COVID and how they can protect themselves and others.
- Called for support for people to self-isolate, better sick pay and measures to ensure affordability does not stop people from testing. Appropriate financial support for people with COVID-19 and long COVID remains essential.
- Wrote to the UKHSA to outline our concerns about access to antiviral medication to treat COVID-19 across the UK. Our concerns included the lack of a consistent approach; unclear advice to patients about access to medication; and a lack of funding and resources. We continue to take these concerns forward with UKHSA and NHSE.
- Continue to encourage increased vaccine uptake among the population, specifically in groups with lower uptake. The BMA have also provided ongoing support and guidance for the primary care workforce delivering the vaccination programme.
- Continue to closely monitor levels of influenza and COVID-19 in the population, the impact of co-infection and what this means for hospitalisation rates. This is especially important in winter months and the BMA support wide coverage of the flu vaccination.
- As part of the BMA’s series of five COVID Review reports we published a report on Effectiveness of the public health response to the pandemic which examines the approaches and key decisions taken by UK governments during the pandemic and the public health measures they introduced. It assesses whether these choices were timely, appropriate, and proportionate to deal with the threat and impact of COVID-19.
- Continue to lobby for better resourcing of public health functions including through our submission to the Government’s Spring Statement 2022.
The BMA continues to ensure that doctors’ experiences during the pandemic are heard and learnt from. For most doctors, the COVID-19 pandemic has been the most challenging experience in their professional lives, working tirelessly to safeguard the nation’s health within underfunded, understaffed and underprepared systems, often without adequate protection themselves. It is vital that these experiences are not forgotten and that crucial lessons are learned and implemented.
- Shared these testimonies alongside other sources of evidence in our series of five COVID Review reports. These reports paint a clear picture of doctors’ experiences and make recommendations for policy.
- Ensuring these experiences are included and learnt from within the formal processes of the UK’s COVID-19 Inquiry and the Scottish COVID-19 Inquiry.
- Influencing the UK COVID-19 Public Inquiry's terms of reference, including securing the specific inclusion of primary care and general practice.
- Our formal designation as a Core Participant for module one (Resilience, planning and preparedness across the UK) and module two (Core political decision making) of the Inquiry. We will also be applying for Core Participant status for module three (Health care system). This formal role provides us with special rights in the Inquiry process including contributing to the scope of the inquiry and suggesting witnesses and questions for investigation.
- Providing evidence to the Inquiry based on doctor’s experiences.
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