Long Covid: School sickness policies need updating

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
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This is very interesting as I could relate to it due to my first hand experience. I (and my family) ...

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With thousands of teachers reporting symptoms of long-Covid, schools’ sickness policies need to better recognise the often debilitating impact of this little understood phenomenon, the NASUWT has said.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS, 2021) show that long Covid has hit both healthcare and education professionals the hardest.

Over a four-week period up until March 6, 2021, the ONS reports that 114,000 teaching and education professionals and 122,000 healthcare workers have reported long Covid.

Long Covid is when people who have contracted Covid-19 continue to have a number of lingering symptoms for weeks or even months after they begin to recover. Its medical name is post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

Symptoms range from mild to incapacitating and all age ranges are affected. Some estimates show that one in 10 people with Covid will get some form of long Covid.

Symptoms that can linger include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint or chest pain, muscle pain or headaches, fast heartbeat, loss of smell or taste, and memory, concentration or sleep problems.

The ONS reports that across the UK, 1.1 million people reported long Covid during the four-week period under review.

Its analysis states: “Self-reported long Covid symptoms were adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000 people … with 196,000 of these individuals reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.”

Of those reporting long Covid symptoms, 697,000 had contracted Covid at least 12 weeks previously – 70,000 said they had had Covid at least one year previously but still had symptoms.

Long Covid is also most commonly reported in the 35 to 69 age range, and among females (roughly two-thirds). The vast majority (almost 800,000) had no pre-existing health condition either.

The issue was high on the agenda at the NASUWT annual conference during the Easter weekend when the union called for schools’ sickness policies to be updated in light of the often debilitating impact of long Covid. The union is also pushing for financial compensation for teachers and education staff who have been left unable to work because of long Covid.

It says that “more supportive sickness policies” need to “recognise the complex and changing nature of long Covid sysmptoms, which can see teachers going through extended cycles of illness, leading to periods of intermittent absence over a long period”.

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “The high incidence of long Covid identified by the ONS is deeply concerning. The number of teachers who may be affected with Covid-related long-term illness could be a ticking time-bomb.

“Teachers need to be supported by sickness management policies that are compassionate and recognise the complex and debilitating nature of long Covid. Teachers experiencing long Covid should not be made to live in fear of losing their jobs or of financial hardship if they are no longer able to do their jobs.

“The government should consider regulations that ensure access to ill-health retirement provision for those with long Covid. Ministers must, as a matter of urgency, provide financial compensation for all teachers, including supply teachers, where their careers have been impacted due to Covid-19.”

  • ONS: Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK, April 2021: https://bit.ly/2R5HGK0
  • ONS: Dataset:All data relating to prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK, April 2021: https://bit.ly/39P0uE5

This is very interesting as I could relate to it due to my first hand experience. I (and my family) contracted COVID in October 2020, from which I recovered almost immediately and was back at work straight after my isolation period after having taught from home during my isolation period.
Suddenly in March 2021, I had a muscle spasm in my back and ever since I only went downhill. During this time, because I wasn’t improving, despite my, regular stretches and efforts, I had to undergo an official Stage One Management of Absence meeting, which only added to my anxiety!
Finally, at the end of May 2021, my GP diagnosed me with Long COVID, which felt both a bit of a relief and of course a shock too. I immediately held a meeting with my Headteacher and shared the information stating that I’m willing to return to work, however my body is just not working with me. To this information, she was very supportive and agreed to make some reasonable adjustments and also agreed for me return on Phased Return. So I started going back 3 mornings, even these were killing me!
Now, since last week (after having returned for 4 weeks), my headteacher informed me that according to HR, I am expected to build it up to full time before the end of summer! Again, I agreed because I am willing, however, it is very exhausting and draining.
I feel like I’m stuck between my health and my job because I was informed that if this was the case in September (according to HR), then I will have to make some choices!
I fully agree that the absence/ sickness policies in schools must be updated and the impact of the pandemic must be taken into account! No one should be left in such a dilemma and undue anxiety due to something which is totally beyond their control!
Thank you for this article and I hope this helps in gauging the impact on a more current basis.

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