The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus held an evidence session on Tuesday on the impact on key workers. Four key workers gave compelling and heartbreaking accounts of how Covid -19 was contracted whilst working.
Part 1 of the APPG on Coronavirus
Layla Moran, the chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said:
“The harrowing evidence the APPG on Coronavirus has received lays bare how long Covid has devastated lives and ruined careers. It is morally indefensible that key workers who got long Covid on the frontline of the pandemic are being abandoned without proper financial support. These nurses, doctors and other brave employees looked after us all during the darkest days of the pandemic. Now it is the government’s turn to look after them.”
A GP living with long Covid speaks to the APPG on Coronavirus
Dr Eleanor Mountstephens, a GP living with long Covid, talked of her experience: “I have worked for the NHS since I was 23 years old and I’ve always worked really hard and being a doctor, being active, is a massive part of me, and that’s gone. Instead I am walking a tightrope every day, of trying to manage what I do so that I can do the things that I have to do .. keeping food in the fridge and on the table…I’m boring, I’m uninteresting, I do nothing. I can’t even read, I can’t watch a film. I can’t do anything that requires concentration. I worry that I am being barely adequate… I have two teenage daughters and… I’m not even being what I should be at home.
A pharmacist with long Covid
Kathryn Harries a pharmacist with long Covid said: “It’s very hard; going from being a healthy young adult to someone who now has to take inhalers every day. My fitness has gone downhill and I’m trying to improve that, but it’s quite difficult when you have these relapse, remitting waves of symptoms. And it is trying to keep positive. It’s put a strain on my relationship.
“My partner really struggled to understand why suddenly this girlfriend just wanted to sit in bed and not do very much. And with my family, my dad really struggled to understand it. He suggested that perhaps I needed some counselling. .. it is quite difficult explaining to others and I don’t really say to my friends any more about my long Covid. So as far as they know I’m fine because it’s just easier that way.”
Medical technician with long Covid
Ian Archbold, an advanced Emergency Medical technician with the North East Ambulance Service, is living with long Covid. Ian, like the others, says “to look at me, doesn’t look like there’s particularly anything wrong.”
He says “Covid has absolutely stripped me of my health and fitness. I’m on six types of medication that I was never on before. I was exceptionally fit. I ran for England for nine years in the 1990s, so I’ve got this natural fitness and it’s [long covid] just taking all that away from me. It’s left me with a weakened immune system.“
Ian talked about the fear going back to work with a weakened immune system, fear of the potential of getting covid again, or picking up any other sort of infectious disease.
“It’s the fatigue, the tiredness and the breathlessness that would stop me going back to work. I’ve had all the tests”
And as expressed by others, Ian tends not to talk about it much. He talked about feeling embarrassed “I’ve gone down that route of being somebody who’s not disabled, but I’m basically now medicated for a host of things. .. I went from suddenly being a normal fit person to Covid. I’ve got all these issues and there’s no sign of them going away. Does it does affect your mentally? I’ve had two rounds of counselling, through my employer and through my GP… I can get … good days and bad days. The thing is, it’s there constantly. It doesn’t go away and is a constant reminder that you’ve got all these symptoms. And if it just it wears you down.”
Dr Mountstephens said the effects of long Covid have been severe, including myocarditis, pericarditis, neuropathy, cognitive issues, and damage to organs. She was removed from her practice, where she had been a partner since 2002, after being unable to return to work after 26 weeks off, in accordance with the partnership agreement.
“I’ve got what they call the brain fog, which in my case means that I can’t pull lots of information together quickly and make sensible decisions about it .. I’m still making some terribly stupid decisions just in my day-to-day life, I can’t reliably write a shopping list or put my lunch together or navigate to a car park… my brain doesn’t work properly at the moment, and so I am not safe making decisions about other people.
“This is not a situation that I thought I would find myself in. I expected to be a GP at that practice for another 15 years … It was very much a part of me.”
Dr Mountstephens ended by saying: “ I got sick at work and now I can’t protect my family and my partner and my loved ones. So, it is … heart breaking.”
A teacher with long Covid
Ms Heather Jones, a teacher with long Covid said that her employment is at risk due to long Covid. She has been called into several disciplinary meetings regarding her time off work and was given a formal warning by the school.
She said: “I feel that I am the equivalent of a faulty kitchen appliance, that it’s just cheaper to throw me out and replace me with something newer than give me that time to get better.”
Ms Harries was told that she was no longer eligible for life insurance due to her long Covid diagnosis, news which came soon after she had bought a house with her partner.
She said: “If I am in a position where I can’t work or I die, my partner is responsible for the whole mortgage, it’s a lot of pressure and that has been very distressing.
“I was heartbroken when I found out that I got sick at work and now I can’t protect my family, my partner and my loved ones, it’s very heart-breaking and it’s been very difficult.”
In answer to Lord Russel “Given what we’ve been talking about, realistically, what do you feel the government, your employer or the NHS can do to help you?
Ms Harris said “We threw ourselves literally into the line of fire and trusted that people would do right by us. And that isn’t the case at all. I need the government to do something to help protect our jobs. We are valuable. We’ve proved that enough over our careers. … Do not throw us away. We are not worthless; we are not useless. We still have value.”
Part 2 of the APPG on Coronavirus
In Part 2 of the APPG, the first expert was Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers and deputy CEO of the NHS Confederation. He said “… employers now wanting to have more certainty and more guidance in terms of the conversations they’re having with staff, there are a range of circumstances, but I think the default very much is about people who want to come back to work in some kind of form, and we are absolutely looking at how we can redeploy and protect people’s earnings for periods of time in that”.
He added: “But at the moment, there isn’t the certainty in terms of both Covid and long Covid actually, in terms of their impact on people, and I think my members would appreciate more guidance.”
Quinn Roache, Policy Officer at the TUC
Quinn works in the TUC’s equalities and strategy department, focusing on LGBT+ and disabled workers.
He said “One thing that Eleanor said, she said that she felt like she had been battle injured. Heather Jones, said she felt like she was in the line of fire. .. I’ve been thinking about the number of people who contracted long Covid, and what that means. I think there’s a clear link between having long Covid and being disabled. I can’t think of another event that has disabled as many people world wide. We’ve had about two million people disabled by this. The only thing I can think of is [with this number disabled] is World War One.
“But what needs to change? What does the government need to do? They need to support people who have long Covid… they need to extend the protections of the Equality Act, explicitly and immediately to cover these people. The government can define any condition as a disability, and that would therefore give anyone who has long Covid the protections of the act immediately.”
He continues “ I think we need to increase statutory sick pay to the living wage. ….Universal Credit needs an overhaul … We know it’s not working/.. another thing that would be helpful is flexible working. We’ve heard from Heather, Eleanor and Ian the fluctuating nature of the condition. Having access to flexible working at and phased returns is so important.”