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Phased return to work for staff with long Covid must be supported, says BMA

by James Hacker
19 March 2021

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Managers must provide support for NHS staff returning to work with long Covid, the British Medical Association (BMA) has said.

In a report, published today (19 March), the BMA said that ‘a phased return to work must be supported if appropriate’ for staff affected by long term symptoms from the virus.

It added that this should follow ‘an assessment by an occupational health (OH) team (recognising access to OH teams is not available to all staff, particularly those working in primary care)’.

The report also said that existing arrangements for full pay for staff off sick with Covid should remain in place ‘for as long as necessary, with financial support for employers to enable this provision’.

Access to OH assessments for primary care

The report said that OH assessments and a consultant occupational physician-led team should be accessible to primary care staff ‘particularly where fitness to return to work advice is required’.

‘This is likely to be needed for staff who have been shielding or who have difficulty recovering from a Covid-19 infection. Plans to improve occupational health access for all healthcare workers must be developed as a priority,’ the report said.

It added that ’rapid referral, including self-referral (within a week) to an independent specialist occupational physician-led service should occur where there are signs of stress/distress’.

In addition to signposting to better direct staff to OH or psychological support, the BMA also said there should be an ‘organisational structure’ in place that implements the advice provided by an OH team.  

Fund GP premises to tackle backlog

Additional capital funding is also needed to transform the UK’s primary care estate and ensure clinical teams can respond to the challenge of managing the backlog, the BMA said.

It added that this would help to provide new GPs with space to work, given that ‘increasing GP numbers is a priority across the UK’.

‘Without this, recruitment of the additional workforce will not be possible, and without the additional workforce health services will struggle to address the challenges of the backlog,’ it said.

According to the BMA’s report there have been 3 million fewer elective procedures in England since April 2020, compared to 2019 numbers.

The number of people in England waiting more than a year for treatment is also 185 times greater than in 2020, it said.

To make sure services can reopen safely for patients and staff, the BMA also called for:

  • System leaders and governments to have ‘an honest conversation with the public’ about ‘a realistic approach to restoring non-Covid care’.
  • Staff mental wellbeing, health and safety to remain a priority.
  • Further resourcing to tackle the care backlog.
  • Measures to retain doctors, and to expand the workforce and system capacity.

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