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SIGNIFICANT numbers of doctors are still suffering with the debilitating effects of long Covid, a worrying new report has warned.
Many are in financial limbo after being forced to quit work or reduce their hours, the study from doctors’ union the British Medical Association (BMA) stressed.
The ambiguous response to the poorly understood condition is “contributing to the loss of UK health service staff at a time when we can least afford it,” the authors said — a reference to record numbers of NHS vacancies following years of Tory austerity.
The warning came as the union’s council chairman Dr Phil Banfield slammed a lack of government planning for the pandemic which forced doctors to judge “who lived and died.”
He called out ex-health secretary and current Chancellor Jeremy Hunt for halting a pandemic preparedness exercise when he ran the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) between 2012 and 2018.
The South West Surrey MP told the official Covid-19 inquiry last month that he remembered halting the exercise because “something quite traumatising happened — I was being asked to flick a switch which would have led to instant deaths, and I wasn’t prepared to do that.”
But Dr Banfield told the opening day of the BMA’s annual conference in Liverpool yesterday that for doctors, this “wasn’t a simulation, it was real human lives in front of us.”
He also blasted former prime minister David Cameron and ex-chancellor George Osborne for being the “architects of austerity who made our country sicker and our health services less prepared to withstand a fatal pandemic.”
The union joined forces with the Long Covid Doctors for Action group to quiz 600 workers about the impact of the condition, which can cause symptoms including brain fog, joint pain, extreme tiredness and ongoing respiratory problems.
A fifth reported being forced to stop work or significantly cut back on their hours and about half said they had suffered a loss of earnings.
A whopping six in 10 warned carrying out essential daily activities such as getting dressed, completing household chores and providing childcare had become difficult or impossible.
More than half told researchers they had been struggling with symptoms since the virus reached Britain in early 2020, with many saying they did not have access to personal protective equipment when they were first infected.
One GP said: “I can no longer work, finances are ruined.
“I didn’t have employment protection so am now unemployed and penniless.”
A consultant added: “Life is absolutely miserable. Every day is a struggle.
“I wake up exhausted, the insomnia and night terrors are horrendous as I live through my worst fears every night.”
The BMA’s Professor David Strain said: “Covid-19 had a profound and often tragic impact on healthcare workers, but the heartbreaking accounts within this report lay bare the debilitating effect that the virus continues to have on doctors.”
The union demanded that long Covid be recognised as an occupational disease and said financial support must be given to any health workers suffering from it.
Better access to physical and mental health services for those affected, greater workplace protection for staff and more support to help healthcare workers return to work safely are also needed, the BMA added.
A DHSC spokesperson said: “We are backing our world-leading scientists with over £50 million to better understand the long-term effects of this virus and make treatments available.
“NHS staff are able to seek support from their GP or one of the 100 specialist long Covid clinics available nationwide.”
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