Long Covid’s devastating toll on doctors revealed

A major survey of long Covid’s effects on doctors out today reveals a sad legacy of lost jobs, lost income and debilitating symptoms.

Consultants, GPs and juniors report they are unable to complete even the most mundane tasks, while also finding huge barriers to accessing treatment.

These are the repeated stories of UK doctors living with long Covid, in response to a major survey out today from the BMA carried out in partnership with the support group Long Covid Doctors for Action.

It is the first comprehensive survey of doctors with post-acute Covid health complications.

More than 600 doctors suffering the continuing effects of Covid-19 were asked about the impact the condition is having on their health, daily lives, employment and finances.

The doctors’ union said the findings painted ‘a stark picture of the devastating impact Long Covid is having on this group of people who were doing their job during the pandemic and deserved to be better protected – and for whom many feel completely let down by a system that they say has turned its back on them’.

Key findings include:

  • Doctors reported a wide range of symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, muscular pain, nerve damage, joint pain, ongoing respiratory problems and many more;
  • Around 60% of doctors said that post-acute Covid ill health has impacted on their ability to carry out day-to-day activities on a regular basis;
  • Almost one-in-five respondents (18%) reported that they were now unable to work due to their post-acute Covid ill-health;
  • Less than one-in-three (31%) doctors said they were working full-time, compared to more than half (57%) before the onset of their illness;
  • Nearly half (49%) said they have experienced some form of loss of earnings as a result of post-acute Covid;
  • 54% of respondents acquired Covid-19 during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020 and 77% of these believed that they contracted Covid -19 in the workplace;
  • A small minority of doctors had access to respiratory protective equipment (RPE) around the time that they contracted Covid-19, with only 11% having access to an FFP2 respirator and 16% an FFP3 respirator;
  • More than 65% of doctors responding said their post-acute Covid symptoms had not been investigated thoroughly and effectively by an NHS long Covid clinic or centre. And almost half of doctors reported not even being referred to an NHS long Covid clinic at all.   

 

The BMA is calling for better protection for healthcare workers, who remain at risk, ensuring adequate workplace risk assessment, as well as infection prevention and control processes in healthcare settings, against airborne transmission of Covid-19 and other pathogens. 

It said: ‘This means providing clean air everywhere in healthcare, by improved ventilation and air filtration and the provision of respiratory protective equipment (RPE).’ 

Left exposed

Prof Raymond Agius, BMA occupational medicine committee co-chairman, said: ‘During the Covid-19 pandemic, doctors were left exposed and unprotected at work. They often did not have access to the right PPE. 

‘In particular, many doctors were denied effective respiratory protective equipment – i.e. respirators which would have considerably reduced their risk of contracting this airborne disease. Too many risk assessments of workplaces and especially of vulnerable doctors were not undertaken.

‘This report underlines the devastating consequences of this lack of protection. Doctors still living with continuing symptoms have once again been left at risk with little to no support from the system that they gave so much to.

‘Those well enough to return to work need support in doing so, while those who are still too sick need adequate financial compensation to ensure they are not driven to bankruptcy by an illness they caught in the line of duty.

‘Those doctors who may never work again due to the long-term effects of Covid are a huge loss to the workforce when we can least afford it.

‘The Government has a moral duty to look after healthcare staff who were put at risk throughout the pandemic as well as to ensure they are never put in the same position again.’