Long Covid cited by more than 2,600 NHS staff as reason for absence

The majority of health workers taking time off due to the debilitating condition were nurses

More than 2,600 NHS staff in Scotland cited long Covid as a reason for their absence. PA
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Long Covid forced thousands of National Health Service staff in Scotland to take time off, new figures show.

At least 2,603 doctors, nurses and midwives were recorded as having taken time off due to the condition, some for more than two years.

The vast majority of absences was among nurses, with 2,414 being absent, compared to 128 doctors and 61 midwives.

The figures were obtained through freedom of information requests submitted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde suffered worst, with a total of 1,298 staff forced to take leave due to long Covid, the statistics showed.

The longest recorded absence was found in the NHS Grampian area, where one member of staff was off for 957 days.

In NHS Fife, a worker spent 882 days on leave and another in NHS Highland was sidelined for 798 days.

The total figure is likely to be higher as NHS Forth Valley did not provide the information, NHS Western Isles was unable to do so, and NHS Lothian issued data for the whole-time equivalent staff lost to long Covid.

A Covid patient is treated in an ICU unit. AFP

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the numbers represent a “damning verdict of the Scottish government’s complete lack of care for long Covid victims”.

He called on First Minister Humza Yousaf’s cabinet to increase funding to help those with the condition.

“Long Covid is an enormously debilitating condition, which disrupts and devastates lives,” he said.

“This nationalist government’s response has been so poor that many Scots would be better off moving to England where more robust care pathways are available.

“Our NHS is already at boiling point and if this lacklustre approach from the SNP and Greens continues, we will see even more staff absences, even more pressure on services.”

Nurses and other long Covid sufferers cannot afford to be put on hold any longer without solutions, Mr Cole-Hamilton said.

“These sky-high absences must propel the government into action.

“We need to see dedicated long Covid clinics set up across the country and Scotland-wide access to physiotherapy and multidisciplinary rehab. Otherwise, nurses and their patients will pay the price.”

The Scottish Government allocated £3 million from its £10 million long Covid support fund for the last financial year, but no further allocations have been announced.

NHS Grampian said it could not comment on individual cases, but that it follows nationally set absence rules.

A spokesman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said its workforce – totalling about 41,000 – accounts for roughly a quarter of NHS staff in Scotland.

“The health and well-being of our staff is of paramount importance to us and throughout the pandemic we introduced a number of new interventions to support staff and managers in terms of absence, health and well-being, and new guidance was developed to assist in managing the previously unknown condition of long Covid,” the spokesman said.

“Through HR and occupational health teams we have expanded resources to focus on supporting those with Covid and long Covid, while introducing specific peer support as part of our wider mental health and well-being action plan.”

A Scottish government spokesman said ministers recognise the “significant impact long Covid can have on the health and well-being of those most severely affected” and support is being offered to them.

He said the £3 million allocated for long Covid would “increase the capacity of existing services, develop these into more clearly defined local pathways and provide a more co-ordinated experience.”

“This is in addition to what our healthcare system – supported by record funding of more than £19 billion – is already delivering in caring for people with long Covid across our full range of NHS services,” he added.

“All NHS staff are fully supported in accordance with the Once for Scotland attendance policy where health impacts their ability to be at work.”

Updated: June 03, 2023, 11:01 PM