The government has been urged to set up a compensation scheme for frontline workers who are suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.
MPs in the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus said “long Covid” should be recognised as an occupational disease, and that some frontline staff who have been exposed to the virus have been unable to return to full-time work.
Layla Moran, chair of the APPG, said: “Long Covid is the hidden health crisis of the pandemic, and it is likely to have an enormous impact on society for many years to come.
“When it comes to frontline NHS, care and key workers, they were specifically asked to go to work and save lives while everyone else was asked to stay at home.
“They were exposed to an increased level of risk of catching the virus, often without adequate levels of PPE… They are the true heroes of the pandemic and, sadly, many have developed the debilitating effects of long Covid, meaning that they are unable to return to full-time work.”
Countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain have formally recognised long Covid as an occupational disease.
Those suffering with long Covid can often experience symptoms including fatigue, loss of taste or smell, respiratory problems and cardiovascular issues for weeks and months after becoming infected with Covid-19 – even those who experienced only mild coronavirus symptoms.
Around 390,000 people in the UK are thought to have long Covid.
Moran, along with around 60 MPs who have signed the letter to the Prime Minister, called for a “symptoms-based” national register to document how many people in the UK are living with long Covid, which would help estimate the cost of delivering a compensation scheme.
The campaign has also been backed by the British Medical Association and members of the House of Lords.
“While the government and employers must increase efforts to protect staff now and stop them contracting Covid-19 in the first place, for some it is already too late,” said Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the British Medical Association council.
“So it is only right that ministers urgently provide a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff and their families who are now living with the devastating after-effects of Covid-19.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Health and Social Care said: “We are acutely aware of the indiscriminate and lasting impact Covid-19 can have. This should be a clear reminder to everyone that Covid-19 can affect anyone and they should continue to follow the guidance and think hands, face and space to get this virus under control.
“We are grateful for the hard work and dedication of our health and social care staff throughout the pandemic and it is important that staff are treated fairly, and employers make full use of the existing sick pay provisions on offer to support staff.
“We are continuing to work with our outstanding scientists to improve our collective understanding of the impact long-Covid has on people of all ages – making sure we deliver the best support possible to affected individuals.”
Sick pay support for NHS staff on national terms and conditions is set at up to six months full salary, followed by up to six months of half their salary, depending on length of service. Temporary Covid sick pay for NHS staff is also in place.
The majority of frontline care workers, many of whom may also be suffering from long Covid symptoms, are employed in the private sector, so will be covered by different sick pay policies.
More than 60 specialist clinics have been opened across England to support individuals experiencing long Covid.