The Department of Health and Social Care is set to announce an end to the enhanced pay arrangements provided during the pandemic, meaning that staff who go off sick with either Covid or long Covid will be subject to normal sick-pay rules.
Nursing leaders have hit back, arguing that the move is “neglectful and unfair” for NHS staff, who are disproportionately likely to be affected by Covid.
In response to the pandemic, the government announced special arrangements for staff to be paid if they were isolating because of Covid, and to receive a full 12 months’ pay if they were suffering from long Covid.
Arrangements will now revert to the normal NHS sick-pay rules, which give workers six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay.
A senior healthcare source said: “They have agreed to end the arrangement for new people from next week, and then have an implementation period where people who are currently off on this sort of scheme revert back to normal sick-pay entitlement from September.”
The Independent understands that the return to the old arrangements will apply to anyone experiencing a new episode of Covid or Long Covid from next Thursday [7 July].
It comes as Covid infections rose by almost 30 per cent in the past week, with an average of 285,507 being newly infected with the virus each day. There are currently almost 2.3 million cases, according to the Office for National Statistics.
This week The Independent revealed that hospitals across the country had made U-turns on decisions made just weeks ago to ditch mask-wearing, in response to the rise in Covid cases.
The Royal College of Nursing’s director for England, Patricia Marquis, speaking about the cut in sick pay, said: “This decision is hugely disappointing, given that Covid-19 clearly hasn’t gone away, and nursing staff continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus as they face a higher risk of exposure.
“We know many of our members are suffering from long Covid, with their lives adversely affected, making them unable to work. Facing the threat of losing full sick pay, should they remain off sick from a condition some could argue is an occupational hazard, is neglectful and unfair.
“It’s another indication of how little this government values its nursing staff. NHS pay is barely enough to make ends meet at the best of times, and this will be another blow for some struggling with Covid-19-related health issues.”
Earlier this month, The Independent reported findings from The Pharmaceutical Journal revealing that 10,000 NHS staff have been off sick with long Covid during the pandemic.
The Office for National Statistics has previously found that health and care workers have the highest rates of long Covid, which experts have said suggests an increased occupational risk from the virus.
Dr Elaine Maxwell, from Long Covid Support, warned that the plan to return to normal sick-pay arrangements for staff with long Covid was “shortsighted”.
She said: “I think this is really shortsighted when we can see, for many people, long Covid lasts longer than a year. Long Covid data up until the beginning of May this year showed that 376,000 people have been ill for over two years. So that must have meant they were infected in the first wave. Given that the subsequent waves were much bigger in terms of numbers of people infected, then we can see an increasing number of people having long Covid for more than a year.
“The NHS is in a recruitment crisis already, and so to lose a large number of people who are of working age, and who may well recover from long Covid in the longer term, is an economic disaster.”
In 2022-23, the responsibility for funding the enhanced rate of sick pay fell to NHS trusts, whereas employers have previously received national funding to support it.
Danny Mortimer, chief executive of NHS Employers, part of the NHS Confederation, said: “This is a sensible step given where we are now in relation to the pandemic. The NHS provides very fair entitlement to sick pay, and organisations will be explaining to staff the implications of this decision based on their individual circumstances.
“However, as we learn to live with Covid over the long term, and as more people are diagnosed with long Covid, healthcare leaders would urge the government to look at the broader package of support available to people who remain unable to work.”
The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.