Intense pressures on the already overstretched NHS are being exacerbated by the tens of thousands of health staff who are sick with long Covid, doctors and hospital bosses say.

At least 122,000 NHS personnel have the condition, the Office for National Statistics disclosed in a detailed report that showed 1.1 million people in the UK were affected by the condition. That is more than any other occupational group and ahead of teachers, of whom 114,000 have it.

Patient care is being hit because many of those struggling with long Covid are only able to work part-time, are too unwell to perform their usual duties, or often need time off because they are in pain, exhausted or have “brain fog”.

“Ongoing illness can have a devastating impact on individual doctors, both physically and by leaving them unable to work. Furthermore, it puts a huge strain on the health service, which was already vastly understaffed before the pandemic hit,” said Dr Helena McKeown, the workforce lead at the British Medical Association, which represents doctors.

“With around 30,000 sickness absences currently linked to Covid in the NHS in England, we cannot afford to let any more staff become ill. Simply put, if they are off sick, they’re unable to provide care and patients will not get the care and treatment they need.

“In the longer term, if more staff face ongoing illness from past Covid-19 infection, the implications for overall workforce numbers will be disastrous.”

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, which speaks for health trusts in England, said: “Long Covid is a real and growing concern for trust leaders because of its impact on the health and wellbeing of the NHS staff affected and the effect their unavoidable absence has on the ability to deliver healthcare services.

“It is particularly worrying that in the latest ONS data healthcare workers self-reported the highest rates of long Covid among all professions, with nearly 4% – accounting for about 122,000 of the estimated 1.094 million people in the UK reporting ongoing symptoms.”

Dealing with long Covid will be “a significant challenge [for the NHS] for months and most likely years to come”, he added.

A Facebook group for doctors with long Covid has 1,200 members, though a small number of those are thought to be fellow medics who are studying the condition.

Dr Sarah Burns and Dr Sue Warren, the GPs who set up the group, said recently in the BMJ that doctors incapacitated due to long Covid feel “intense feelings of failure and grief for leaving colleagues with increased workloads and not personally contributing to the ‘fight against Covid’. This self-stigmatisation and shame is common among sick doctors.”

They added that “many felt angry that they had, almost certainly, contracted Covid-19 in their workplaces but now felt abandoned or even penalised by colleagues. A small but not insignificant number have been asked to leave roles due to prolonged sick leave.” Some doctors with long Covid say the NHS has not understood their condition and that help so far has been patchy.

Prof Andrew Goddard, the president of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), which represents hospital doctors, said: “Anyone with long Covid should be able to expect that those looking after them in the NHS understand their condition. It is worrying that doctors with long Covid have described their condition as not understood by their colleagues.”

Recent RCP surveys have shown that a small but growing number of doctors have symptoms of long Covid, especially fatigue, pain and breathlessness. In February more doctors were off sick because of that than due to acute Covid itself, Goddard added.

Layla Moran, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, wants ministers to classify long Covid as an occupational disease and set up a scheme to compensate workers in health, social care and other public service roles who have been left unable to work because they have it.

The ONS found about 30,000 social care workers also had long Covid, which could affect staffing levels in care homes and among services that provide at-home care.

Inside a long Covid clinic: ’I look normal, but my body is breaking down’ – video

NHS England said its new network of specialist long Covid clinics was already treating staff with the condition.

A spokesperson said: “Our network of long Covid clinics is already supporting healthcare staff who are experiencing ongoing coronavirus symptoms, to make sure they get the right support.

“We have also put in place a comprehensive package of support for the mental health impacts of the pandemic, including dedicated staff mental health hubs across the country, 24/7 text and phone support and free access to self-help apps.”

This content first appear on the guardian

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