‘Don’t throw us away’: Long Covid sufferers urge government to protect their jobs when forced off work

·3-min read

People suffering from long Covid and forced off work for lengthy periods have urged Boris Johnson’s government to do more to protect their jobs.

Some who have struggled to return full-time after contracting Covid-19 while working on the frontline during the pandemic said they were worried they could lose their jobs.

Heather Jones, a teacher who has struggled with long Covid symptoms since getting the virus at school in November 2020, said has been warned she would be sacked if she did not return to work when asked.

“We threw ourselves into the line of fire and trusted that people would do right by us – but that wasn’t the case,” said Ms Jones.

She added: “So I’m calling on the government to help protect our jobs. We are valuable. Please help us now – do not throw us away. We are not worthless. We are not useless.”

Ms Jones and several other frontline workers appeared before MPs on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus on Tuesday to share their experiences of long Covid.

Dr Eleanor Mountstephens said she had already lost her job as a GP after long Covid forced her off work for more than six months.

“Our partnership agreement says that when you’re been unable to work for 26 weeks, the other partners can you remove you from the partnership – and that’s what happened to me,” she told MPs.

She added: “The reason they gave was that they didn’t really understand what was going on with me, and they didn’t know what my long-term prospects were. I felt like I’d lost family, a home, my place – with 11 days notice.”

Long Covid symptoms – including fatigue, muscle aches and ongoing respiratory and heart problems – can continue for months beyond initial illness from the virus.

A recent Imperial College London study indicated that more than two million people in England may have experienced long Covid.

The TUC has called on the government to change the Equality Act 2010 so long Covid is recognised as a disability, and workers have more legal protections at work.

Kathryn Harries, a pharmacist struggling with “flare ups” of serious illness with long Covid since contracting the virus last year, said her employer had been supportive of her need to take time off work.

But Ms Harries said others had not been so “fortunate”, and called on the government to a consider compensation scheme for key workers living with the effects.

“The government do not need to look at financial support [for people with Long Covid] and compensation for frontline staff, because we have done our part and been injured,” she told MPs on the APPG. “Something needs to be done.”

Quinn Roache, policy officer at the TUC, urged ministers to make sure long Covid was recognised in law. “The government can define any condition as a disability and that would give anyone who has long Covid the protections of the Equality Act immediately.”

Mr Roache also said a right to flexible working and increasing statutory sick pay to the living wage would help many of those forced off work long-term since the Covid crisis began.

Paula Cole, employment lawyer at TLT Solicitors, said there was an urgent need for “clearer guidance” from the government on how employers should treat staff with long Covid. “There’s much more that can be done to give clarity.”

Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, which acts on behalf of NHS trusts, also said he would welcome more guidance from government on how to treat staff with long Covid.

He said the temporary allowances allowing staff with Long Covid to phase their return to work had been extended.

“We are absolutely looking at how we can redeploy [staff] and protect people’s earning over periods of time,” Mr Mortimer told MPs. “But at the moment there isn’t the certainty, in terms of both Covid and Long Covid, in terms of their impact.”

The APPG has previously called on the government to launch a compensation scheme for frontline workers suffering from long Covid.

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