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If we’re forced to suffer Long Covid, work environments must change

In a first-of-its-kind study, university researchers have found that sickness leave and return to work policies are unfit for those living with the disease.

The days of forcing yourself into work, even if you felt a little rundown, are over for people suffering with Long Covid according to experts from the University of Stirling and the universities of Oxford and York.

In of the first qualitative studies to investigate attempts to return to work by people with Long Covid, researchers spoke to 65 adults, in 2021 and 2022, who were dealing with continuing disability as a result of the condition.

They discovered that existing workplace polices that classify employees simply as either ‘able’ or ‘disabled’ are not helpful for people with illness, like Long Covid, which are unpredictable, often involve invisible symptoms and vary in their severity.

According to the NHS website, symptoms of Long Covid include fatigue, feeling short of breath, problems with memory and concentration, dizziness and joint pain.

Dr Alice MacLean, from the University of Stirling’s Institute of Social Marketing and Health (ISMH), said: ‘Long Covid is not yet officially classified as a disability in the UK and there is very little advice for people with Long Covid on how best to return to work.’

‘Study participants told us that existing sickness absence, return to work and welfare policies do not meet the needs of workers with Long Covid, and that they often experienced a lack of support on attempting to return to work,’ Dr MacLean added. ‘As well as trying to manage the demands of work alongside their ongoing symptoms, they also had the additional tasks of educating employers and colleagues about the debilitating effects of their symptoms and negotiating workplace adaptations, such as a change in role, working hours, or workplace location.’

Within the research, experts note that England should follow the countries who have classified Covid-19 as an occupational disease, providing workers who have long-term disability associated with Covid-19 infection with long-term disability and additional financial protection and compensation. More than 50 countries have adopted this policy, with Belgium as the most recent example.

One participant who took part in the research said: ‘It took me a really long time before I accepted that I wasn’t well enough to work. I probably drove my managers mad, because I would email every couple of weeks and say, “Right, I think I’m better, I’ll be back on Monday”, and then lo and behold, I would be ill again.’

Image: Dr Alice MacLean

More on this topic:

Manchester GPs combat long Covid by text

Villains exposed: Are the government to blame for the mishandling of Long Covid?

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