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NHS staff criticise ‘incomprehensible’ scrapping of special Covid leave

Covid-related absences had been fully paid for all NHS workers, regardless of their length of service (Peter Byrne/ PA)
Covid-related absences had been fully paid for all NHS workers, regardless of their length of service (Peter Byrne/ PA)

The Government’s decision to cut enhanced Covid-related sick pay and special leave for NHS workers in England has been called “wrong” and “incomprehensible” by NHS staff.

Covid-related absences had been fully paid for all NHS workers, regardless of their length of service.

However from July 7 staff terms and conditions in coronavirus workforce guidance will be withdrawn, meaning the immediate end to sick pay for new episodes of Covid-19 sickness, according to the Royal College of Nursing, and access to special leave for the purposes of self-isolation will also be withdrawn.

A statement from campaign and advocacy group Long Covid Nurses and Midwives UK (LCNM), chaired by Dr Alison Twycross, said the move was considered “a slap in the face” by “those people who worked selflessly on the front line throughout the pandemic”.

Dr Alison Twycross
Dr Alison Twycross, chairwoman of campaign and advocacy group Long Covid Nurses and Midwives UK, which said the move is being considered ‘a slap in the face’ (PA)

The statement said: “These changes take away the financial security for thousands of NHS staff with long Covid.

“Nurses and midwives, along with other NHS staff, stepped up throughout the pandemic often without adequate PPE, putting themselves and their family at risk.

“The cost of doing so has been huge, particularly for those healthcare staff who now have long Covid.

“During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic NHS staff were hailed as heroes and clapped every Thursday evening – however, it appears they are heroes no longer and are being abandoned by governments across Great Britain.”

The number of people in hospital in England who have tested positive for Covid-19 has climbed above 10,000 for the first time since April, reaching 10,658 on July 4, up 36% week on week.

Julie Taylor, 43, a nurse from Yorkshire, said the new rules are “incomprehensible”.

Ms Taylor, who is now working from home due to long Covid, said the rules could cost nurses like her their careers.

She told the PA news agency: “The news that Covid-19 sick pay is going to be removed across the UK is incomprehensible.

“Long Covid is a work-acquired injury for many of us. Nothing has changed – we have no effective treatment and no cure, so how are people with long Covid able to get back to work safely and effectively?

“Long Covid is the pandemic within the pandemic; it’s disabling and multifaceted and we need research, treatment and support – not the risk of our income and careers being taken away.”

Julie Taylor
Julie Taylor is now working from home (PA)

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: “As we learn to live with Covid, we are withdrawing the temporary NHS staff sickness guidance that was put in place at the height of the pandemic, as part of plans to move back to the normal arrangements set out in the NHS terms and conditions.

“This provides generous support for NHS staff with up to six months full pay and six months half pay, depending on length of service.”

However, Karen, 60, who did not want to give her surname, a clinical support worker on the wards, from Bedfordshire, said the change of rules “is wrong”.

She told PA: “Colleagues have caught Covid several times since the pandemic began.

“Now we are going to have to consider if we can even afford to be off sick when we catch it, or suffer from long Covid.

“We are the ones on the front line nursing these patients and now we will be penalised for that. This government has got this wrong and is playing with our lives.”