Long Covid, a condition currently affecting approximately 60,000 people in the UK – which will inevitably continue to rise – and characterised by a variety of physiological and psychological issues, including fatigue, breathlessness, cognitive blunting (‘brain fog’) and pain, requires practical, medical and emotional support, similar to that already offered by employers for conditions such as cancer, ME and diabetes.
This is clearly an emerging situation and one which is likely to be challenging for employers, in terms of providing support for those with this new relatively unknown condition and its long-term implications. Offering practical help and emotional support for those diagnosed with the condition will help ensure that staff receive the most appropriate course of treatment, helping to steer them back on the path to recovery.
Types of support
As well as the known physical ailments associated with Long Covid, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), has raised concerns about the potentially huge psychological impact of the condition which includes patients suffering from post-intensive-care syndrome and post-viral fatigue syndrome.
Therefore, support provided by employers needs to be holistic, combining practical advice to manage the varying physical symptoms, signposting to appropriate NHS medical care and services, and timely provision of relevant therapies as well as emotional support to deal with the psychological impact.
Some examples of specific external interventions are:
- Respiratory physiotherapy – breathing exercises/techniques
- Occupational therapy – pacing to manage fatigue and help with memory problems
- Complementary therapy – to aid sleep and reduce stress
- Talking therapies – to help with fear, anxiety and low mood and other psychological impacts
- Physiotherapy – post Covid musculoskeletal pain
As the symptoms are variable and fluctuating, any care and support needs to be tailored to the employee’s specific needs at that particular time with the flexibility to adapt as necessary.
In fact, the need for emotional support cannot be underestimated, particularly in these times when social interaction is so limited. The ability to rely on close family, friends or work colleagues for support during times of ill health has been taken away from many people, leaving them to cope with their symptoms in isolation and in desperate need of human support.
Many employers already have relevant support in place
In the paper ‘Long Covid’: evidence, recommendations and priority research’ authored by doctors from Oxford University and Royal Berkshire Hospital, recommendations were made for a four-tier clinical service to be developed for Long Covid patients. The recommendations ranged from tier one support which was mainly focussed on resources and support for self-care, through to community-based interdisciplinary rehabilitation in tier two, and specialist management of specific conditions in tier four.
Many employers already have this layered approach to support in place for other conditions via health and wellbeing benefits including protection insurance, group insurance or PMI, and so it may be that employers simply now need to communicate the availability of this added-value service to their staff.
It’s true to say that for an unfortunate few, Long Covid is serious and potentially life-threatening but for most, it is likely to be a long-term chronic condition that could prevent them returning to their working life or normal activities for some time.
If in doubt, employers should speak to their insurer, employee benefits consultant or adviser so get a better understanding of what, if any, support is already included within their current employee benefits packages. Those employers who encourage their employees to access a Long Covid support programme at the start of their illness and prior to a significant deterioration in their physical or mental health, are likely to see a faster return to normal modus operandi than those who don’t take the impact of Long Covid seriously.