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Long COVID could have chronic impact on business

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Long COVID could lead to further financial strain and impact on company recovery from the pandemic, according to David Price, CEO at health service Health Assured.

Long COVID, a term used to describe the effects of coronavirus after the two week period the World Health Organization identifies, is estimated to be affecting approximately 60,000 people in the UK.

Speaking to HR magazine, Price warned that the added expenditure from contractual or Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) for the condition may lead to further financial strain on company budgets.

Symptoms include; fatigue, breathlessness, cognitive blunting (‘brain fog’) and pain - all of which require practical, medical and emotional support, similar to that already offered by employers for conditions such as cancer, ME and diabetes.

In the immediate term, Price said: “Employers are likely to experience significant amounts of sickness absence which need to be managed; this usually comes with extra spend on agency workers, for example, or other temporary workers to bridge the gap or extra pressure on colleagues who need to pick up the extra work.”

The condition could also be having an affect on employee involvement within an organisation. He added: “Disengagement can become a real problem with long term sick leave which makes it more likely that affected employees will begin to question their future within the organisation.”

One of the current dangers of long COVID is that employers don’t yet know the extent of its impact on the workforce.

“It may fall under the legal definition of a disability,” he said. “Employment Tribunals consider various elements when deciding whether a condition is to be treated as a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

“One of these is whether the condition has long-term effects, which means that it has lasted, or is expected to last, for 12 months.

“We cannot, at this stage, know whether long COVID meets this definition because of its newness, but if it does, and has a substantial adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out day to day activities, then is it likely that it will be considered a disability.”

Medical care provider RedArc has advised employers wishing to minimise the impact of the condition on employees and their organisation should ensure that their health and wellbeing programmes include holistic and personalised support for staff for as long as they need it.

As well as the physical symptoms associated with long COVID, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has raised concerns about the potentially huge psychological impact of the condition which includes patients suffering from post-intensive-care syndrome and post-viral fatigue syndrome.

Christine Husbands, managing director for RedArc, said: “This is clearly an emerging situation and one which is likely to be challenging for employers, in terms of providing support for those with this new relatively unknown condition and its long-term implications.

“Offering practical help and emotional support for those diagnosed with the condition will help ensure that staff receive the most appropriate course of treatment, helping to steer them back on the path to recovery.”