North West Ambulance Service has lost 33,000 working days to Covid related illness since pandemic

Statistics shows how much the workforce was depleted by those affected by Covid for longer than a month.

By Aimee Seddon
Wednesday, 5th January 2022, 3:58 pm

New information suggests that the availability of ambulance staff in the North West of England may remain badly affected by 'Long Covid', even if active Coronavirus cases ease, as tens of thousands of working days have been lost during the pandemic due to staff experiencing Covid symptoms for a prolonged period.

A freedom of information request made to the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust (NWAS) by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus has revealed that between March 2020 and September 2021, 33,654.65 full time equivalent days were lost due to staff experiencing Covid related sickness for more than 28 days.

Overall, 398 NWAS staff members were absent from work in this period for more than 28 days, in at least one episode, due to Covid related sickness, and in one case, a member of staff had been absent from work for 544 days, with four others absent for over a year.

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North West Ambulance Service staff levels have been hit by the long term symptoms of Covid.

Although the NWAS can identity these absences as being due to Covid related sicknesses, such incidents can not be defined as Long Covid as the NWAS do not record staff's positive and negative test results.

A North West Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “The trust’s FOI response stated that we were unable to report on Long Covid specifically as we cannot discern which staff have what is described as Long Covid. The data we presented includes all Covid related sickness and so we are unable to factually state that 33 thousand working days have been lost purely to Long Covid.

“We acknowledge that staffing hours have been lost, from frontline and corporate services, and these FOI figures also include our corporate service staff, and not just those who work on patient facing frontline roles. However, as well as continual additional recruitment, we have received assistance from volunteer and private providers, as well as the military earlier this year, so we could fill as many operational gaps as possible.”

The Office for National Statistics recognises Long Covid as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected Covid-19 infection that were not explained by something else, and according to their most recent statistics, an estimated 1.2 million are living with Long Covid in the UK; with fatigue, shortness of breath, loss of smell and difficulty concentrating reported as the most common symptoms.

The North West Ambulance Service says that their heads of service and HR teams regularly review all cases of long term Covid related sickness and ensure plans are in place to support individuals and manage cases in line with NHSE guidance.

NWAS staff who continue to suffer the effects of Long Covid have also been redeployed to alternative roles or had workplace adjustments put in place, such as reduced hours and less demanding caseloads so they can remain in work in some capacity, and are provided with further support for their mental health and wellbeing.

They also add that all staff who remain absent due to Covid related sickness remain on contractual sick pay, whilst their Occupational Health physician is currently undertaking a review of staff who have been absent for a prolonged period of time to assess what further support can be considered on a case by case basis.

Although the trust may be making adjustments for affected staff, nationally there are calls for the negative impact that Long Covid has on public services to be recognised and for the UK Government to provide more support.

After first raising the issue in August 2020, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus are calling on the government to recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease, and to introduce a Long Covid compensation scheme for frontline workers who have been impacted financially by the condition.

Barbara Keeley, MP for Worsley and Eccles South and Vice-Chair of the APPG on Coronavirus, said: “These statistics demonstrate the urgent need to recognise Long Covid as an occupational disease, provide formal guidance to employers on the issue and create a compensation scheme for key workers who have been unable to return to work.

“Many of these workers exposed themselves to the virus while saving others during the darkest days of this pandemic. The government cannot continue to ignore the sacrifices they have made while working to protect others.”