NHS staff with COVID-19 in England and Wales will no longer receive extended access to full pay during their absence from work, as the government revokes arrangements that were implemented at the start of the pandemic.
In a statement sent to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 4 July 2022, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said that it introduced temporary non-contractual COVID-19 sick leave guidance at the start of the pandemic “to ensure staff received full pay” if they became ill with COVID-19, with employers subsequently paying staff their full salary regardless of the length of absence.
However, the DHSC said these arrangements will be withdrawn on 7 July 2022, with all staff in receipt of sick pay owing to COVID-19 reverting back to their contractual terms and conditions by 1 September 2022.
A spokesperson for the DHSC said the decision was “part of plans to move back to the normal arrangements set out in the NHS terms and conditions”.
NHS staff are entitled to receive up to six months full pay and six months half pay under normal contractual terms and conditions sickness arrangements, depending on their length of service, the DHSC clarified.
This comes after NHS Wales issued guidance on 30 June 2022 stating that staff who have received full pay for 12 months or more while absent from work owing to COVID-19 would see their pay halved as of 1 July 2022 “for the length of time corresponding to each individual’s contractual entitlement to half pay”.
Staff who have been absent for less than 12 months “will continue to receive full pay up to the anniversary of the commencement of their sickness absence” before reverting to half pay, the guidance says.
It adds that “organisations should consider whether it is appropriate to provide ongoing support above half pay or no pay” for those who develop long COVID after 1 July 2022, with an absence that extends beyond their entitlement to full pay.
According to estimates from the Office for National Statistics, published on 1 June 2022, 4.6% of people working in healthcare across the UK have self-reported long COVID of any duration, while 3.6% first had — or suspected they had — COVID-19 at least 12 weeks previously.
An investigation by The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed in June 2022 that at least 10,370 staff members were absent from work for at least 12 weeks owing to illness from COVID-19 between January 2020 and March 2022.
Commenting on the changes to sick pay, a spokesperson for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said: “The commitment of the pharmacy profession to patient care, and the hard work and determination to sustain medicines supply and key pharmaceutical services throughout the pandemic, has been immense.
“In order to support the public, it is essential that pharmacy teams themselves are supported.
“[The RPS] believes the tireless efforts of the profession on the front line during [the COVID-19 pandemic] must be recognised and employees should not be financially disadvantaged as a result of suffering ill health, potentially acquired during their employment,” they added.
A spokesperson for the Welsh government said: “NHS Wales and trade unions agreed the arrangements for COVID-19 sickness absence from 1 July  to support the transition back to existing national terms and conditions for all absences.
“Organisations can look at individual circumstances on a case-by-case basis and apply different pay arrangements.”