Denis Naughten TD has called on the Government to treat the surge in long COVID patients with the same urgency as the initial COVID-19 infections and ensure that an estimated 21,459 adults who are unfit to work are given access to the medical care they need.
“These patients who are trying to access medical care, are likely to be suffering from long COVID to such an extent that they are unable to work. This is despite promises since September last year that a treatment pathway would be put in place by the HSE,” said Denis Naughten.
Symptoms of long COVID include fatigue and brain fog, which are experienced at least three months after the initial infection for significant periods of time, in some cases over two years. Professor Jack Lambert of the Mater Hospital told the Oireachtas Health Committee earlier this year that patients with the condition “act very much like patients who have experienced closed head injuries”.
The World Health Organisation has defined long COVID as a condition that occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of COVID-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
These effects appear to occur irrespective of the initial severity of the COVID infection but occur more frequently in women, the middle aged and in those with more symptoms initially.
“Last September, after I questioned the Health Minister on the issue of treatment for long COVID patients, the HSE stated that it planned to establish specialist long COVID clinics yet today we are still waiting for these to become operational,” stated Denis Naughten.
“Long COVID patients presenting to our health service with complex health conditions will overwhelm our hospitals, which are already struggling with the winter overcrowding,” said Denis Naughten.
“We cannot just sleepwalk into a crisis of chronic illness, which will push people already on waiting lists for treatment since before the pandemic even further down these horrendous waiting lists. As a result, the Regional Group of TDs will seek a Government commitment in the Dáil this Wednesday to ensure that long COVID services are rolled out across the country immediately.”
Based on an analysis of people who claimed the COVID Enhanced Illness Benefit payment from the Department of Social Protection, a county by county breakdown can now be provided to an estimated 21,459 adults nationally who are likely to be suffering from or have suffered from long COVID to such an extent that they are unfit to work.
The numbers are based on the only nationally collated figures for long COVID in Ireland and show that Dublin has the highest number of adults with such long-term effects of COVID-19 that they are unfit to work at 6419 people, with County Leitrim at the other end of the scale with 132 adults. However, by population County Carlow has the most adults unfit to work due to long COVID at 303 yet their neighbours in County Wicklow have the lowest incidence of long COVID by population at 551, followed closely by County Wexford with 580 adults.
“As of yet there are no figures available on the incidence of long COVID in Ireland, but this analysis of the figures from the Department of Social Protection shows that 0.81% of workers are still unable to return to work 12 weeks after their initial infection, which is indicative of a significant challenge that we are facing, particularly within our health service, to manage and treat the impacts associated with this condition,” said Denis Naughten.
He added: “The figures I have obtained from the Department of Social Protection are only indicative of a much higher rate of long COVID in the community, with many people ineligible for such a welfare payment or back in work but with the illness impacting on their productivity and daily lives.
“If this incident rate was applied to the population as a whole then there could be at least 21,459 people who are unable to go to work due to long COVID. This figure does not take into account the tens of thousands who are suffering with less severe forms of long COVID who are going to work but not contributing to the same extent that they did prior to the illness, nor does it take into account the thousands of people who recovered from the initial infection but had a subsequent relapse.
“Not only is this having a significant impact on our labour force but, as an Australian long COVID study put it, even low rates of COVID-related permanent illness or disability could still lead to significant future burden of disease on our society,” said Denis Naughten.
Link to Dáil motion: https://denisnaughten.ie/2022/11/04/regional-tds-to-move-dail-motion-next-wednesday-seeking-immediate-action-on-long-covid/
|County||unable to work due to long COVID|
Methology: Long covid unfit to work by County
Prof Lambert’s comments to the Oireachtas Health Committee
|PQ figure date||Enhanced Illness Benefit (COVID-19) claimants 10+||Illness Benefit 2+ weeks post EIB claimants|
|15th September 21||767||460|
|14th February 22||4,314||3,018|
|31st March 22||4,811||3,428|
|24th June 22||5,291||3,783|
|15th September 22||5,637||4,056|
Previous Welfare PQ replies
- Based on the PQ below 0.81% of Enhanced Illness Benefit claimants of over 10 weeks went on to receive another illness related payment for at least 2 weeks, meeting the emerging scientific criteria for long COVID.
For Written Answer on : 15/09/2022
Question Number(s): 252 Question Reference(s): 45310/22
Department: Social Protection
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
To ask the Minister for Social Protection the number of claims submitted and the number of persons who have received enhanced illness benefit for COVID-19; the number of persons who were in payment for two, four, six, eight and ten weeks, respectively; the number of persons who transferred to illness benefit after the ten-week payment period had expired; the number of these claims that were in payment for more than two weeks; the number that were transferred to disability allowance after the ten-week payment period had expired; the number of these claims that were in payment for more than two weeks; the number of such claims that were rejected or pending; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
Enhanced Illness Benefit (EIB) is a form of Illness Benefit that is payable to self-employed persons or an employee who is told to self-isolate or has been diagnosed with COVID-19. It is important to note that a person may have received Enhanced Illness Benefit on more than one occasion since the payment was introduced, and thus have more than one claim for Enhanced illness Benefit. The number of claims received and the individuals claiming EIB up to 11th September 2022 are provided in Table 1.
Table 1: Number of EIB Claims and EIB Recipients
EIB is payable for up to 10 weeks where a person is diagnosed with COVID-19. In a case where a person continues to be ill beyond 10 weeks, standard Illness Benefit may be paid for an extended period, based on the person’s continued eligibility. Details on the duration of EIB claims are set out in Table 2. The data in Table 2 refers to the claim duration, based on the certification dates.
Table 2: EIB claim durations
Of the 7,417 claims with a total certification period of 10 or more weeks, these relate to 5,637 individuals of whom 4,056 transferred to Illness Benefit payments, and were certified for 2 or more weeks. 98 persons who had at least one EIB claim of more than 10 weeks duration are now in receipt of Disability Allowance. A total of 73 people had a Disability Allowance claim rejected, while 27 people had Disability Allowance claims pending as of end-August 2022.