Boris Johnson urged to declare 'long Covid' an 'occupational disease'

Patients and MPs urge PM to declare ‘long Covid’ an ‘occupational disease’ and pay compensation to frontline staff who say they can’t return to work because they have sore feet, weak legs and smell ‘fake’ odours

  • APPG on Coronavirus said some sufferers have found it hard to return to work
  • Group wants the Government to follow France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark 
  • Prof Danny Altmann said up to 20% of patients reporting ‘long Covid’ symptoms
  • It follows Employment Minister saying effects of the virus are ‘non-permanent’

Patients and MPs have urged Boris Johnson to declare ‘long Covid’ an ‘occupational disease’ and pay compensation to frontline staff who say they cannot return to work because they have sore feet, weak legs and smell ‘fake’ odours months after being infected with coronavirus. 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus warned the disease – for which symptoms include ongoing fatigue, ‘brain fog’, loss of taste or smell, and respiratory problems – will ‘likely have an enormous impact’ for years to come.

The group wants the Government to follow France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark, which have formally recognised coronavirus as an ‘occupational disease’. 

Earlier this week Professor Danny Altmann, from Imperial College London, said up to 20 per cent of patients are reporting symptoms of the disease several months after falling ill.

It follows Employment Minister Mims Davies saying last week that the effects of Covid are ‘non-permanent or reversible, non-progressive and any disability is temporary’.

Sophie Evans (pictured above), a nurse and midwife who is suffering from ‘long Covid’, said she still has the ‘same headache’ 10 and a half months after contracting the virus

Sophie Evans, a nurse and midwife who is suffering from long Covid, told BBC Breakfast: ‘My journey started with a headache, the same headache that I now have 10 and a half months on, and I became gravely unwell with Covid at the age of 27.

‘Imagine running a marathon with no finish line at all. So I just feel that I am running every single day entirely exhausted and I have no idea when this will end.’

She added: ‘I’ve never cried so much. 

‘The guidance says that coronavirus absence or coronavirus related absence should be full pay for the duration of the pandemic.

‘But how employers interpret that is sort of up to their discretion so I actually don’t know how long I’m going to be on full pay for.

‘I don’t know if my contract’s going to be terminated. You know, I’ve got a mortgage, I have a partner, I have a family, how am I going to sustain all of that?’

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who chairs 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.’

Ms Moran added: ‘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.

‘The Government cannot abandon them now or ever. The least the Government can do is recognise their sacrifice by recognising their condition as an occupational disease, launching a compensation scheme, and save the livelihoods of those who save lives.’

A letter, signed by more than 60 MPs and peers, has been sent to Mr Johnson.

Their call has been backed by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, who said a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff is ‘only right’.

He added: ‘After being exposed to increased risk working on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are now healthcare workers across the country living with the long-term, debilitating impacts of having caught the virus.

‘We have heard harrowing stories from doctors suffering with long Covid, who are often unable to work, threatening their financial stability and affecting their lives at home.

Lorna Graham (pictured above), who contracted coronavirus at the age of 26, told how she was signed off from work for six months and thought she was ‘dying’ when she fell ill last April

The APPG on Coronavirus wants the Government to follow France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark, which have formally recognised coronavirus as an ‘occupational disease’

‘The dedication and selflessness shown by healthcare workers over the last year, and the debt of gratitude owed to them, cannot be under-estimated.

‘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.’

Four major studies into the long-term effects of coronavirus will be boosted by £18.5 million of Government funding.

The cause, symptoms and effects of long Covid will be investigated during the research, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced today.

One in 10 suffer from ‘long Covid’ three months after recovering, ONS finds

One in ten coronavirus survivors suffer lasting symptoms three months after beating the illness, data suggests.

The Office for National Statistics published a report in December on ‘long Covid’ — a wide-range of symptoms which linger months after the original illness has cleared up. 

It revealed that 9.9 per cent of Brits who beat the virus still suffered from the lasting effects of the disease 12 weeks later.

And 21 per cent reported persistent symptoms after five weeks of clearing the initial infection, with the most common being fatigue, a persistent cough and headaches.

The ONS figures also revealed rates of heart attacks and strokes were 12 times higher among people hospitalised with Covid compared to non-virus patients.

Most patients with coronavirus will recover within a fortnight, after suffering a fever, cough and losing their sense of smell or taste for several days.

But evidence shows the tell-tale symptoms of the virus can persist for weeks on end in ‘long haulers’ — the term for patients plagued by lasting complications.

Researchers believe these symptoms are the ‘after-effects’ of coronavirus, due to damage caused to the organs, immune and nervous systems.

But Dr Helena McKeown, chairwoman of the BMA’s representative body, said it would be ‘negligent’ to just focus on research and wait too long before compensating frontline workers who have developed the condition. 

She told BBC Breakfast: ‘We know people – doctors, nurses, other frontline key workers – who contracted Covid back in the spring (last year) and still have symptoms.

‘Some people have already lost their livelihoods. We know GPs who have had to leave their practices, and other doctors and healthcare workers.’

She said the Government cannot ‘just say “wait whilst we get evidence in five years” time or so’, adding: ‘What about these people now who need help with their families and their livelihoods?’ 

Sophie Evans, a nurse and midwife who is suffering from long Covid, is still suffering from the ‘same headache’ 10 and a half months after first contracting the virus.

She said: ‘My journey started with a headache, the same headache that I now have 10 and a half months on, and I became gravely unwell with Covid at the age of 27.

‘Imagine running a marathon with no finish line at all. So I just feel that I am running every single day entirely exhausted and I have no idea when this will end.’

Ms Evans added: ‘I’ve never cried so much. 

‘The guidance says that coronavirus absence or coronavirus related absence should be full pay for the duration of the pandemic.

‘But how employers interpret that is sort of up to their discretion so I actually don’t know how long I’m going to be on full pay for.

‘I don’t know if my contract’s going to be terminated. You know, I’ve got a mortgage, I have a partner, I have a family, how am I going to sustain all of that?’

Nathalie MacDermott, a lecturer at King’s College London who worked as a frontline clinical worker during the first wave of the pandemic, said she developed pain in her feet before struggling to walk.

She told Radio 4’s Today Programme: ‘So I knew I had some problems following what I think was my second acute Covid infection in the space of a few months. 

‘I developed pain, a very unusual pain, in my feet and then that progressed with some weakness in my legs and difficulty walking.

‘I can only walk about a couple of hundred metres without using crutches and it’s also affected my bladder and my bowel as well.’  

APPG chairwoman Layla Moran (above) 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’

Lorna Graham, a nurse who contracted coronavirus at the age of 26, told how she was signed off from work for six months and thought she was ‘dying’ when she fell ill last April.

The 27-year-old, from Glasgow, said: ‘The acute phase of my illness lasted a few weeks and I can truly say I felt like I was dying. 

‘Without question it was the worst I have felt in my life. It’s not that I haven’t been ill before. I have had sepsis and swine flu but this was different. It felt like I was drowning; at times I couldn’t get a breath.

‘This all happened despite me being a fit 26-year-old. I wasn’t a fitness fanatic, but I was active on my days off. I would go hillwalking regularly, so you could say I was fit and obviously young too.

‘In the first few weeks I was at the Covid assessment centre a few times and was sent to hospital, although never admitted. I had a temperature, no taste or smell and just slept and slept.

‘I waited to recover fully and it just never came. It was October before I felt able to go back to work.’

She added: ‘My symptoms have changed throughout. Sometimes it’s shortness of breath, sometimes it’s actual chest pain. When it’s bad it feels like someone is digging their knuckles into my back.

‘My sense of smell has not come back, so it’s been a long time since I tasted a meal properly. I can tell if something is sweet or savoury, or salty or spicy. But not what the actual taste is; it’s odd. I really only get textures. Something like soup holds no appeal as it has no taste.

‘I also get ‘fake’ smells. I can smell smoke sometimes, when nobody near me is smoking. I also get a mouldy smell which isn’t pleasant!’

What are the long-term symptoms of Covid-19?

Most coronavirus patients will recover within a fortnight, suffering a fever, cough and losing their sense of smell or taste for several days.

However, evidence is beginning to show that the tell-tale symptoms of the virus can persist for weeks on end in ‘long haulers’ — the term for patients plagued by lasting complications.

Data from the COVID Symptom Study app, by King’s College London and health company Zoe, suggests one in ten people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.

Long term symptoms include:

  • Chronic tiredness
  • Breathlessness 
  • Raised heart rate
  • Delusions
  • Strokes
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of taste/smell
  • Kidney disease 
  • Mobility issues
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pains
  • Fevers 

For those with more severe disease, Italian researchers who tracked 143 people who had been hospitalised with the disease found almost 90 per cent still had symptoms including fatigue two months after first falling unwell.

The most common complaints were fatigue, a shortness of breath and joint pain – all of which were reported during their battle with the illness. 

Another study in Italy showed one in ten people who lose their sense of taste and smell with the coronavirus – now recognised as a key sign of the infection – may not get it back within a month.

The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, involved 187 Italians who had the virus but who were not ill enough to be admitted to hospital.

The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said the longer term impacts of Covid-19 on health ‘may be significant’.

Support groups such as Long Covid have popped up online for those who ‘have suspected Covid-19 and your experience doesn’t follow the textbook symptoms or recovery time’.

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