Doctors who worked on the frontline during the pandemic and have been left with long Covid say they have been denied financial support by the UK government, with some left with little option but to sell their house.
Months or even years after an initial Covid infection some people continue to have symptoms, from fatigue to brain fog. According to the Office for National Statistics, as of 1 May an estimated 2 million people in the UK reported having long Covid, as the condition is known.
Now healthcare staff in the UK have told the Guardian that despite being left with serious impairments as a result of long Covid, they have been turned down for personal independence payment (Pip), a non means-tested benefit helping people with the extra living costs of their chronic illness or disability.
One respiratory consultant revealed they had been refused Pip despite reporting to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they had urinary incontinence, were unable to be on their feet for more than five to 10 minutes without a rest, and had difficulties preparing food, eating, washing, dressing or engaging with people face to face, among other problems.
Speaking anonymously, as their application is under mandatory reconsideration, the consultant said they contracted Covid while working on a coronavirus ward in November 2020 and first applied for Pip in June 2021 after developing long Covid, which has left them unable to work.
“I thought that I had illustrated quite clearly what my disability was,” they said. “When I got the report back, I thought ‘is this about me?’”
The consultant added that the Pip process had been so taxing that each time they engaged with it their health crashed.
“It has actually made me ill,” they said. “Also, this is the time when I need this the most, because I am very sick now,” they added, noting they had nearly exhausted their savings to fund private treatment. “The next step is selling the house.”
An infectious disease expert, who is confident they caught Covid at work, said they had their Pip claim rejected in part because they were able to drive a car – an activity the DWP assessor deemed evidence of “significant physical function” and “substantial cognitive powers”.
The expert, whose application is also under mandatory reconsideration, told the Guardian the car was an automatic, with additional assistive features, bought after long Covid left them unable to drive their manual vehicle.
Despite acknowledging the expert required help with preparing food, washing and going to the toilet, the DWP assessor concluded they did not meet the requirements for Pip.
Whether an applicant gets Pip at all, how much they get and for how long depends on an official, much-criticised assessment that scores the ability to carry out basic daily tasks. Critics say the test is inherently flawed and capricious, and especially unreliable when assessing fluctuating conditions such as mental illness or Parkinson’s.
Claimants win about 70% of cases taken to appeal. It is not unknown for an appellant who was assigned zero points by a Pip assessor to be awarded maximum points at tribunal when the full extent of their medical circumstances are considered.
In written evidence to a current parliamentary inquiry into the quality of Pip assessments, the Long Covid Support charity labelled the process “unfit for purpose” and called for it to be overhauled to reflect the breadth and complexity of the condition’s symptoms.
It said “delays and denials” of benefits such as Pip were effecting the “recovery, physical and mental health, and wellbeing” of people in the UK living with long Covid.
The plight of doctors left with the condition has previously been recognised by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on coronavirus, which has called on the prime minister to recognise long Covid as an occupational disease. Alongside access to Pip, the APPG has called for the launch of a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff.
“Thousands of frontline workers are now living with an often debilitating condition after being exposed to the virus while protecting this country. They cannot now be abandoned,” said Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP who is chair of the APPG.
Dr Kathryn McKinnon, a co-chair of the British Medical Association’s occupational medicine committee, said the organisation had concerns that sick pay provision did not last long enough for some doctors with long Covid.
“The Pip process has been criticised for being unduly complicated, and in many cases taking a long time, coupled with the fact that many applicants appeal, and win,” she said. “In terms of future compensation schemes, we welcome the ongoing work by the all-party parliamentary group and we are considering looking into whether it would be beneficial to doctors to classify long Covid as an occupational disease.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our strong financial safety net supports millions of people with disabilities and health conditions every year, and it is our utmost priority everyone receives the benefits to which they’re entitled and experiences a supportive and compassionate service.
“Pip assessments are carried out by trained healthcare professionals who carefully consider how an individual’s disability or long-term health condition impacts their day-to-day life.
“Independent research shows that the right decision is made first time in the vast majority of cases.”
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[ ALL Information from theguardian.com was used in this report. Read More ]