Supporting colleagues affected by Long COVID

‘Long COVID’ is commonly used to describe signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID‑19. It includes both ongoing symptomatic COVID‑19 and post‑COVID‑19 syndrome (NICE, 2020).

As of 2 October 2021, an estimated 1.2 million people living in private households in the UK (1.9% of the population) were experiencing self-reported Long COVID (symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection that were not explained by something else).  This figure has increased from 1.1 million (1.7%) as of 5 September 2021, reflecting sustained increased COVID-19 infection rates in August 2021.

As of 18 May 2021, estimates by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) suggest that approximately 122,000 healthcare workers and 31,000 social care workers are self-reporting symptoms of Long COVID.

What support is available to our NHS colleagues experiencing symptoms of Long COVID?

The NHS has a range of support offers and services available to NHS colleagues to support with their health and wellbeing, including support for Long COVID symptoms.

These include:

  • Access to Occupational Health and Wellbeing services and local Employee Assistance Programmes through your employing organisations. It is likely that referral into Occupational Health and Wellbeing services will need to be via a line manager, but access to Employee Assistance Programmes is often direct.
  • Access to a range of health and wellbeing offers through the national support programme, including free access to a range of mental health and wellbeing apps and a range of coaching and counselling offers.

NHS England has developed the following guidelines to help our NHS line managers and leaders understand what Long COVID is, and how they can support colleagues who are experiencing its symptoms. These guidelines, which were co-developed with a range of stakeholders, include advice on HR elements such as sick pay and how to record Long COVID-related absence, as well as practical tips on the benefits of having regular health and wellbeing conversations to understand any reasonable adjustments that might need to be made to support colleagues to return to work.

Colleagues can also seek support from their registered GP, or through one of the 90 NHS Post-COVID Assessment Clinics available nationwide. These clinics offer physical, cognitive, psychological and psychiatric assessments, with the aim of providing consistent services for people with Long COVID. Colleagues can seek a referral to their local Post-COVID assessment Clinic via their GP or a relevant clinical service, including via assessment from one of the staff mental health and wellbeing hubs.

As a line manager, how can I support a colleague experiencing symptoms of Long COVID?

Recovering from Long COVID can be a lengthy process and colleagues will need to be supported to recover at their own pace.   Line managers can support colleagues by:

  • for colleagues off work due to Long COVID, line managers are encouraged to maintain regular contact to support and connect during the absence
  • for colleagues who have returned to work, offer regular wellbeing conversations to see how colleagues are feeling now
  • using wellbeing conversations to discuss whether they would like to make any reasonable adjustments to their working pattern, for example asking if working flexibly would support them to adjust back into the workplace
  • recommending that colleagues join local or national Long COVID support groups and peer networks to meet others who are experiencing similar challenges
  • highlighting the above mentioned wellbeing support offers available and post COVID rehabilitation clinics

NHS Employers have also published more detailed guidance on how to support colleagues affected by Long COVID, which can be accessed on the NHS Employers website.