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Staff with long Covid will feel forced out of the health service if managers don’t treat them fairly, union warns

New report claims government inaction on long Covid will cost the economy £8bn this year alone

THREATENING, punishing, bullying or blaming NHS workers with long Covid risks driving experienced employees out of the health service at a time of unprecedented demand, Unison warned today.

Anxiety, fear and “shockingly bad” treatment from bosses are forcing staff who are still suffering from the poorly understood condition to return to the workplace early, the public-sector union’s new health worker survey reveals.

The research, published during Unison’s annual health conference in Liverpool, shows that 68 per cent of healthcare assistants, nurses, porters and clinical support staff are back at work despite experiencing breathlessness, fatigue, brain fog and aching joints.

Almost half — 46 per cent — of the 1,900 workers polled say that their employer was initially supportive, with job roles being adjusted to enable flexible working or to allow time off without using up sickness entitlement.

But this changed for some as time went on, the survey suggests. About one in 10 have been asked to attend a formal absence hearing, while 2 per cent have faced disciplinary action or even the sack. 

Black NHS staff report being more likely to face the harshest punishment, the union highlighted.

Unison’s head of health Sara Gorton called for long Covid to be treated as a disability, to protect workers.

“That so many NHS staff are back at work despite still being poorly illustrates their dedication to their jobs,” she said.

“But some are likely to be returning too soon because they’re worried that managers will turn against them.

“This is no way to treat staff who’ve given their all through the pandemic.

“Health leaders need to understand the impact that poor management of long Covid is having on retention and take immediate action.”

NHS England has been contacted for comment.

The poll came as a new report warns that the condition is contributing to a deficit of more than a million workers compared to pre-pandemic levels which could cost Britain £8 billion this year.

Progressive think tank, the Institute for Public Policy Research, argued inaction from Tory ministers on “burning health inequalities” between regions is limiting lives and holding back the economy.

Labour’s Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, who is a member of the institute’s new commission on health and prosperity, said: “Good health must be built into all the places people live. 

“By doing this health can be the foundation of a just and equal economy.”

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