NHS staff with ‘disabling conditions’ after COVID-19 should be able to claim benefits, say government advisers

Exclusive: By listing health complications from COVID-19 as part of the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme, people affected by the virus would qualify for up to £188.60 in weekly benefits.
A rainbow in a houses window to thank the NHS and key workers during COVID-19

Government advisers have recommended that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) should provide disablement benefits to NHS and social care staff who have “certain disabling conditions” following COVID-19 infection.

The recommendation was made by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council (IIAC), which oversees how benefits from accidents or diseases caused by work are awarded, through the Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit scheme, and advises on additional diseases that should be added to the list for which benefits can be claimed — known as ‘prescribed diseases’.

Union leaders have welcomed the IIAC’s proposal to add health complications from COVID-19 to the list of prescribed diseases, saying that it will have “important consequences” for those working in healthcare affected by the virus.

In March 2021, the IIAC published a paper on ‘COVID-19 and occupation’, which concluded that “the evidence is currently too limited in quality and quantity to justify prescription at this stage” but said that it would make the recommendation “if and when there is strong enough evidence that occupational exposures cause disabling disease on the ‘balance of probabilities’”.

In a statement to The Pharmaceutical Journal on 26 July 2022, the IIAC confirmed that it had written another report on COVID-19, which “has been submitted to the DWP for consideration”.

“The IIAC COVID command paper sets out recommendations for prescription for certain disabling conditions which persist in people who have had COVID-19 and who work in the health and social care sector.

The statement added that the paper “does not cover the disease COVID-19 itself, just the ongoing complications as a consequence of having had the virus”.

If the addition is approved by the DWP, health and social care workers will be able to apply for a weekly benefit of up to £188.60, depending on the extent of the disability.

The IIAC did not confirm which disabling conditions would be included, but minutes from a meeting of the IIAC in April 2022 — during which the council discussed the final draft of the report — reference conditions such as stroke, pulmonary embolism and myocardial infarction.

Paul Day, director of the Pharmacists’ Defence Association (PDA), described the IIAC’s recommendations as “progress”, but added: “The wider question of whether or not long COVID classes as a disability depends on the details of each set of circumstances.

“If a PDA member has been impacted by long COVID in their workplace then they should contact our service centre so we can help them understand and exercise their rights and options, whatever that may include,” he said.

“Our priority is always to help an individual continue with their employment, or where that is not possible to get the appropriate compensation for the loss of a job and/or longer-term career.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, of which a total of 5.5 million people make up its 48 member unions, said: “It’s welcome news that the forthcoming paper is set to recommend listing COVID-19 as an occupational disease for some sectors.

“It’s clear that some jobs have much higher COVID risk than others. So this will be the right thing to do, with important consequences for many working people affected by COVID.

“If you become sick due to your work, with life-changing consequences, you should get proper support. Listing COVID-19 would help people qualify for the support through industrial injury benefits. And the reporting rules will help make workplaces safer.

“We hope the paper can be published very soon and that ministers will respond positively.”

In early July 2022, the government revoked arrangements that were implemented at the start of the pandemic that allowed NHS staff with COVID-19 in England and Wales to receive extended access to full pay during their absence from work.

And previously, in May 2022, The Pharmaceutical Journal revealed that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) did not investigate at least 89 reports of occupational exposure to COVID-19 submitted by NHS trusts, with some hospitals subsequently discouraged from making further reports.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, July 2022, Vol 309, No 7963;309(7963)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.151373

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