Dear Mr Opperman: an open letter to the Tory MP for Hexham

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels

Dear Mr Opperman, Today, you would have read in the newspapers and seen reports from the BBC and ITV that Boris Johnson is being urged to launch a compensation scheme for frontline workers who are suffering from the long-term effects of coronavirus. On 11 February 65 MPs and peers signed a letter to the Prime Minister, asking for Long Covid to be recognised as an occupational disease.

The UK has recorded over 3.9 million positive cases of Covid-19; of which more than 15,449 live in Northumberland. This means that, at least 390,000 people in the UK and 1,545 in Northumberland will continue to live with debilitating effects of Long Covid for many months, if not years, to come. Long Covid is the hidden health crisis of the pandemic.

In the House of Commons debate on Long Covid on 14 January, you would have heard about many frontline and key workers who, because of the debilitating effects of Long Covid, have been left unable to return to work.

Layla Moran, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus chair, 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.”

The group wants the government to follow France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark, which have formally recognised Covid as an ‘occupational disease’. Ms Moran told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “These are people who we went out to clap for every Thursday evening… and find themselves unable to do their work, having spent their time saving lives. It is entirely right to protect their livelihoods.”

The BBC reported how Iona Fabian, a secondary school teacher, fears for her future after contracting Covid-19 in March 2020.

“Like many people who got it in March, I didn’t know that is what I had,” the 52-year-old said. “I mostly had a very sore throat and just felt very, very tired, so I just took to my bed for three or four days.”

Iona felt like she had recovered but gradually her symptoms got worse, and come June, she “suddenly went down like a ton of bricks” and could not get out of bed for weeks.

“I was just staying alive at that point,” she said. “As the weeks went on it felt like being slowly erased, all your plans and all the things you normally do in your life being taken away one by one.”

Doctors told her it was Long Covid and the impact on her life, and her work, has been stark ever since.

“I tried to do a phased return to work in September but realised I could barely stand up and I was white as a sheet,” she said.

“It is one thing going back to work in Lockdown, but different than it will be in real life because of the physicality of standing up, as breathing and walking is really, really difficult.”

Iona is now joining the calls to make Long Covid an occupational disease and to give those key workers living with Long Covid more support.

ITV has shown this video on the effects of Long Covid:

The 11 February letter to the PM continues “Once more, we urge you to launch a compensation scheme for frontline and key workers who contracted Covid-19 while battling the pandemic and are now living with the debilitating effects of Long Covid. As set out in our letter dated 22 January, the scheme must go beyond existing sick pay schemes and must be specific to those living with Long Covid. The scheme should mirror the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme (AFCS) and recognise the relapsing nature of Long Covid.”

The MPs have been backed by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chair of the British Medical Association Council, who said a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff was “only right”.

He added: “After being exposed to increased risk working on the frontline 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.

He said: “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.

“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.”

Tory MP and doctor Dan Poulter, who is the vice-chair of the group, added: “The government asked frontline medical staff and key workers to look after us during the pandemic.

“Now it is government’s turn to look after the heroes of the pandemic by launching a comprehensive compensation scheme for those of them living with long Covid.”

I urge you to support the hundreds of people in your constituency who are seriously ill with Long Covid and unable to work and back the efforts to get a compensation scheme to support healthcare workers with Covid-19.

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