International Workers’ Memorial Day must be used to ensure income support
provided to all frontline workers
The decision to designate long Covid as an occupational illness lies with the Department of Health and Minister Donnelly, Denis Naughten TD has stated.
“The Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection made it clear to the Oireachtas Committee that the decision on designating long Covid as an occupational illness, lies with the Department of Health and Minister Donnelly,” Committee Cathaoirleach Denis Naughten TD said.
“Today is International Workers’ Memorial Day, a day of remembrance and action for workers killed, disabled and injured in the course of their work, and in Ireland only some frontline healthcare workers are in receipt of support for their long Covid condition, with no support available for all other frontline workers will long Covid.
“While the Department of Social Protection has been considering a scheme to acknowledge and support frontline workers suffering with conditions associated with long Covid since last November, its officials informed the Oireachtas Committee last week they are still engaged in a ‘back & forth with colleagues in health, teasing out issues’.
“Now the Secretary General of the Department of Social Protection has weighed in on the saga making it absolutely clear that this decision lies in the Health Department,” said Denis Naughten.
He added: “What is really frustrating about this ongoing delay is that Governments right across Europe are now designating long Covid as an occupational illness and yet the one Department that would benefit most from such a scheme, the Department of Health, does not seem to be dealing with the issue with the urgency it requires.”
This is despite Minister Donnelly assuring the Dáil that he is supporting frontline health care staff.
Minister Stephen Donnelly, responding to a Dáil Question on 18th April, said: “I am acutely aware of the issues experienced by public health employees in relation to Long Covid and I am committed to providing support”.
He went on to point out that “for certain employees who remain unfit to attend the workplace and are suffering from long Covid, a temporary Scheme, specific to the public health service was introduced to provide for Paid Leave for Public Health Service Employees unfit for work post Covid infection”.
Despite this temporary Scheme for frontline healthcare workers with long Covid ceasing in just 9 weeks’ time, the Department of Social Protection is still waiting a decision from the Department of Health on designating long Covid as an occupational illness
“It seems really bizarre that despite many frontline healthcare workers suffering with conditions associated with long Covid as a result of providing vital medical care to patients at the height of the pandemic, the Department of Health is not proactively prepared to provide supports to its own staff,” stated Denis Naughten.
“In a few short weeks frontline healthcare workers who put their lives at risk to care for patients during the height of the pandemic, without proper protective PPE clothing, and who are out of work with conditions associated with long Covid are facing an income cliff-edge as their HSE funded paid leave will cease.”
At present, only healthcare workers who were out sick with long COVID conditions prior to 15 November 2021, which was before the Omicron variant was detected, are able to avail of this paid leave, with all other frontline workers excluded from any specific supports. Even those workers in receipt of special long Covid supports will see this cease in June this year if they have not made a full recovery allowing them to return to work.
Denis Naughten added: “Earlier this month, I published new polling data indicating that 10% of adults have experienced symptoms of long Covid following an initial period of infection with the virus. The poll, which I commissioned by Ireland Thinks, shows that 12% of women reported having experienced long Covid symptoms, compared with 7% of men. Of this group, 17% reported that their ability to conduct daily activities had been ‘severely affected’ as a result of their symptoms.
“This 10% self-reported incidence of long Covid is up from 6% just 4 months ago and clearly shows this is a growing problem that could also be associated with ongoing milder Covid-19 infections,” concluded Denis Naughten.
Previous response by Social Protection officials: https://denisnaughten.ie/2023/04/19/5-months-on-health-dept-still-in-talks-on-designating-long-covid-as-occupational-illness-naughten/
Link to Dáil written reply: https://www.kildarestreet.com/wrans/?id=2023-04-18a.4128
Poll results: https://denisnaughten.ie/2023/04/06/new-survey-shows-10-of-adults-experienced-symptoms-of-long-covid-naughten/
Nature Review article on long COVID states “Long COVID is associated with all ages and acute phase disease severities, with the highest percentage of diagnoses between the ages of 36 and 50 years, and most long COVID cases are in non-hospitalized patients with a mild acute illness” Link: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-022-00846-2#:~:text=Long%20COVID%20(sometimes%20referred%20to,%2DCoV%2D2)%20infection.
Citation: Davis, H.E., McCorkell, L., Vogel, J.M. et al. Long COVID: major findings, mechanisms and recommendations. Nat Rev Microbiol 21, 133–146 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-022-00846-2