We are hugely concerned about the welfare of doctors and healthcare workers with long COVID. Many doctors and other health care professionals have been impacted by long COVID and need better support, including when they are unable to work due to their condition.
Healthcare workers have been particularly impacted by COVID-19 and report higher levels of long COVID than the general population.
We are working to improve the support for doctors suffering with long COVID.
Long Covid BMA survey report
Over-exposed and under-protected: the long-term impact of COVID-19 on doctors
The report calls attention to the impact of post-acute COVID on doctors. It draws from a UK-wide survey conducted by the BMA and Long COVID Doctors for Action of over 600 doctors.
This is the first comprehensive survey of doctors with post-acute COVID health complications and provides a unique and valuable insight into the experience of UK doctors with the condition.
The report highlights the debilitating effects post-acute COVID has had on a large number of doctors, both professionally and personally. This disease has profoundly altered doctors’ lives and has contributed to a loss of the NHS workforce, adding further strain to overstretched UK healthcare services.
What we want
The lives of many doctors have been significantly impacted by contracting COVID-19, with a large number of these doctors contracting it whilst doing their jobs during the pandemic. Therefore, the BMA is calling for:
- Financial support for doctors and healthcare staff with post-acute COVID
- Post-acute COVID to be recognised as an occupational disease in healthcare workers, with a definition that covers all of the debilitating disease’s symptoms
- Improved access to physical and mental health services to aid comprehensive assessment, appropriate investigations, treatment, and ultimately recovery from post-acute COVID
- Greater workplace protection for healthcare staff who risked their lives for others
- Better support for post-acute COVID sufferers to return to work safely, including a flexible approach to the use of workplace adjustments
Key stats/ findings
The impact of post-acute COVID on doctors’ lives has been far reaching:
- 1 in every 5 doctors reported that they are no longer working due to post-acute COVID ill health
- Nearly half (49%) of respondents told us that they have experienced a loss of earnings as a result of post-acute COVID.
Many doctors contracted COVID-19 whilst at work due to inadequate protections
- 69% of doctors who contracted COVID-19 in 2020 told the BMA that they had not been individually risk assessed before acquiring COVID-19
- A small minority of doctors had access to respiratory protective equipment (RPE) around the time that they contracted Covid-19, with only 11% having access to an FFP2 respirators and 16% an FFP3 respirators
Far greater support is needed to help doctors access the support they need
- Around 66% of respondents have worked despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties, as a consequence of post-acute COVID.
To help achieve our asks the report sets out 10 recommendations:
The Department of Work and Pensions must act without delay on current IIAC (Industrial Injuries Advisory Council) recommendations for the specific circumstances where Long COVID should be recognised as an occupational disease for healthcare workers.
UK Government must urgently develop a package of financial support for doctors and healthcare workers with post-acute COVID.
Health and Safety Executive must provide clear guidance to health service employers on the legal requirements to carry out risk assessments and report instances of infection under RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations).
The Department of Health and Social Care must ensure funding is allocated for appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and RPE (Respiratory Protective Equipment) in health and care services to ensure staff are protected.
UK health services must increase access and improve waiting times to post-acute COVID care such as NHS COVID clinics.
UK health services must ensure care for those with post-acute COVID, such as that delivered through NHS COVID clinics, is multidisciplinary and offers access to both physical and mental healthcare.
Health education bodies across the UK must fund increased occupational medicine training posts.
UK health service employers must prioritise timely access to occupational health services and assessments for staff with post-acute COVID.
UK health service employers must promote greater awareness amongst managers of the needs of staff with post-acute COVID and support measures required.
UK governments and health systems must ensure health service estates are safe for staff and that the risk of infection from infectious diseases, like COVID-19, is reduced, including ensuring improved and appropriate ventilation.
Enhanced sick pay
During the pandemic, the NHS introduced COVID-19 sickness pay provisions across the UK to ensure that when staff are absent with COVID-19 they received full pay. However, governments across the UK have announced that these enhanced sick pay schemes are ending. This means that NHS staff will revert to normal contractual sick pay arrangements.
In England, the COVID special leave provisions ended on 1 September 2022. Staff who contracted COVID-19 after 7 July are not eligible for any enhanced sick pay arrangements. Staff who contracted COVID-19 before 7 July who are off work with a COVID-19 related illness continued to receive full pay during a transition period from July 7 to August 31. Any period paid as COVID-19 sick leave prior to 1 September, regardless of length, will not be counted towards calculations of contractual sick pay or sickness absence triggers.
Similar arrangements are in place in Scotland, where COVID sick pay arrangements ended on 31 August 2022.
In Wales, the changes took effect from 1 July but NHS staff off with long COVID can still get full pay for up to one year from when they first went off sick. Staff will then be moved to half pay under normal contractual sickness arrangements.
In Northern Ireland, changes took place on 1 October 2022.
Primary care doctors
The support available for primary care doctors is less clear. Primary care has never had a clearly defined funding and management process for doctors suffering with long-COVID. Support processes are not clearly stated in any national guidance and funding support such as the General Practice COVID Capacity Expansion Fund in England, ended in September 2021. Sick pay provisions for GP partners are dependent on individual partnership agreements.
The support available for locum doctors who are self employed in both primary and secondary care, has varied and has been unclear. Entitlement to COVID related sick pay has often been dependent on individual contractual arrangements. In addition, most locums are not entitled to Statutory Sick Pay unless agreed with the provider.
Support for BMA members with long COVID
Our employment advisors are working with individual members - employed and independent contractor doctors with long COVID, to help them access the support they need and are entitled to from their organisation.
We are hearing from members with long COVID that different NHS organisations are making decisions about long COVID on a case-by-case basis and using their discretion to inform decisions around return to work assessments, pay and other support. It is therefore difficult to provide general guidance about what will happen in any individual case.
We would strongly advise any member with long COVID who is in need of support to contact our team of advisors, using the contact details below.
Lobbying for improved support for doctors with long COVID
We condemned the decision to end the enhanced sick pay for doctors with long COVID. We have argued that it will prevent health care professionals from accessing appropriate and necessary remuneration and could result in staff being pressured into returning to work before they are fully recovered – causing significant risks to themselves and patients.
We will continue to work to support members and lobby government to take action to support doctors with long COVID.
We have repeatedly called for enhanced COVID-19 sickness pay provisions to continue until a long-term strategy for dealing with COVID-19 is in place, one that is underpinned by adequate research, data collection and sustained investment.
Our report Addressing the health challenge of long COVID sets out what is needed to improve the understanding, treatment, care and support of people with long COVID, including doctors and other healthcare workers, and calls for action in the following areas:
- Detailed data collection on the prevalence and presentation of long COVID
- Increased funding for research and infrastructure
- Prevention of long COVID in children
- Support for health professionals to identify and treat long COVID
- Funding and resources to establish multidisciplinary services
- Improved financial and wider support for people unable to work due to long COVID
The report also makes a number of specific recommendations to improve financial and wider support for doctors and other healthcare workers with long COVID, such as:
- Improved support and a compensation scheme for doctors and health care workers who have long COVID (we supported calls by the APPG on Coronavirus for a separate long COVID compensation scheme to be established for key workers)
- Calling for long COVID in doctors to be classed as an occupational disease. (The Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, who advise the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding industrial injuries benefit and how it is administered, has made its recommendations regarding the circumstances in which long COVID should be prescribed as an occupational disease. If government acted on this, it could help NHS workers with long term physical conditions caused by COVID-19 to receive Industrial Injuries Disability Benefit. 17 November 2023 marks the one-year anniversary since this paper was presented before Parliament. The BMA recently wrote to Government to urge them to act on the recommendations and support healthcare workers with Long Covid.
Following the publication of the report we will continue to press for our recommendations to be accepted and actioned by Government.
In addition to the recommendations in the report, we are calling for NHS England to clarify general practice long COVID sick pay in national guidance as soon as possible (through monthly operational group meetings between GPC England representatives, BMA staff and NHS England counterparts).
We will also use the public UK COVID-19 Inquiry as an opportunity to present evidence on the impact of COVID-19 on doctors and other healthcare professionals that has been outlined in our reports as part of the BMA COVID-19 review.
Claiming NHS injury allowance
Some doctors with Long Covid may be eligible for NHS injury allowance.
It may assist a NHS injury allowance claim to have had your COVID reported by your employer to the Health and Safety Executive under the terms of the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). In doing so, you may wish to query with your employer whether the instance of COVID you have suffered has been reported to the HSE.
If you have any questions around a potential personal injury claim or queries around personal injury in general, BMA Law may be able to assist.
To find out how BMA Law can help you:
- get in touch via email
- call 0300 123 2014.
Royal Medical Benevolent Foundation - provides support and financial assistance for doctors and their families through all stages of their career and beyond.
The Cameron Fund - medical benevolent charity which solely supports General Practitioners and their dependants.
Counselling and peer support
BMA counselling and peer support - Free and confidential 24/7 counselling and peer support services open to all doctors and medical students (regardless of BMA membership), plus their partners and dependents.
Long Covid Doctors for Action - private Facebook support group for doctors.