Healthcare Workers are Suffering from Long COVID in the UK
17 Dec 2021 | Anne Marie Fogarty
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What is Long COVID?
Most people who develop Covid do not get extreme symptoms and recover quickly, but some have symptoms and long-term effects that exceed long after the main infection. If you want to read more on long-Covid click here to view an insightful look at the topic.
Guidance for UK health workers describes long Covid as infection exceeding 12 weeks, after a severe or mild infection, without any secondary cause.
As per NHS, the symptoms may include:
- extreme tiredness
- brain fog
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- heart palpitations
- joint pain
- change in taste/smell.
Surveys have concluded many other less common symptoms, such as hallucinations, hearing issues, insomnia, memory loss, speech problems, etc.
What’s the prevalence of long-Covid in UK Health Workers?
As per the ONS survey, tens of thousands of NHS healthcare workers are suffering from long Covid symptoms, which puts them in a difficult position- wanting to care for their patients, needing to work yet feeling so fatigued that they can’t. Approximately 122,000 NHS workers in the UK are suffering from long Covid, with a prevalence of 13.7 per cent at 12 weeks post-infection. This is leading to healthcare workers choosing or needing to work part-time schedules where possible. Not a bad thing when we consider how burnt out our healthcare workers are – it may well be time to rearrange working patterns with more flexibility, better work-life balance and less stress – flexible workforce solutions offer a quality of life in healthcare workers’ careers. Choice, more freedom, flexibility, and more quality time with family all come with flexible working and the flexible workforce.
The study concluded that fatigue is the most frequently reported persistent symptom. There are consistent demographic risk factors, including increasing age, female sex, overweight/obesity, pre-existing asthma, and pre-pandemic poor physical and mental health. Healthcare workers report greater levels of long COVID. All these factors contribute to the affected lives of healthcare workers and have a negative impact on patient care.
What’s the health advice for long Covid sufferers?
If you are a healthcare worker suffering from long-covid,
- Establish the level of your current health, care, and ongoing symptoms.
- Be aware of local NHS resources for the post-Covid-19 syndrome
- Assess the need for any investigation to exclude any underlying organ damage as per guidance.
- Identify and manage comorbid depression and anxiety and other comorbidities, which may increase, the longer someone is away from work
- Monitor your sleep patterns and take care of sleep hygiene.
The healthcare providers must also assess how many hours they work in a week, what their normal day involves, and how much the patient’s exposure is. You must seek proper medical care as per your symptoms of long-covid. Another point to note is that work is generally good for health, and the longer you stay away from work, the more depression and anxiety can occur. Returning to work provides a purpose, boosts self-esteem, and enables financial independence, while worklessness is associated with poor physical and mental health and increases risks of self-harm. So, try to return to work as you feel better, take proper precautions, and minimize your unnecessary patient exposure. Above all, healthcare workers need to be kind to themselves, be sensible when they can return to work and mind their mental health.
Guidelines for Health Workers
As a large number of healthcare workers are suffering from long-Covid, some specific guidelines and steps are offered to them. Health workers are preferably granted access to vaccination. Healthcare workers who get long-Covid are advised to get themselves and their families tested against Covid-19 repeatedly. Shielding for vulnerable people has also been published, and there is also a facility of wellbeing helplines and support for healthcare staff available – just reach out.
The Government has also confirmed that there is a constant need for personal protective equipment and preventive measures as per World Health Organization protocols. If you are a long-Covid sufferer, those around you and your caretakers must also have protective equipment.
What are the management options?
As many healthcare workers are suffering from long-Covid symptoms, various management options and assessment centres across England are of much help.
There are over 90 specialist long-Covid assessment centres that have been set up in England. Similar clinics have also been set up in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, offering services per symptom. As of now, there is no proven drug treatment for long-Covid management, but the management is symptomatic and supportive, just like with early Covid infection. Moreover, there is a focus on relieving symptoms, taking proper precautionary measures, and making it possible to return to work safely.
Long-Covid is evident in many people and so it is important to ensure as a healthcare professional, that you take time to rest, to mind your own health so that when you do return to care for patients, you will be in a better place to deliver quality, safe patient care.