One year on since the start of the pandemic, many employers are considering how to support workers with ‘Long Covid,’ as rising numbers of employees are experiencing ongoing symptoms, says Cheryl Brennan, Executive Director for Health and Benefits at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.
The Office for National Statistics[i] revealed that around one in five people who tested positive for COVID-19 had symptoms that lasted for five weeks or longer, and one in 10 had symptoms that lasted for 12 weeks or more. Some are still experiencing severe ongoing symptoms nearly a year later.
The most common symptoms at five weeks were fatigue (12.7%), coughs (12.4%), headaches (11.1%), loss of taste and/or smell (10.4%), and muscle aches (8.8%)[ii]. Many also reported mental and emotional side effects such as ‘brain fog[iii]’, survivor guilt[iv] and even PTSD[v].
Cheryl Brennan says, “There is still a lack of medical clarity about the effects of Long Covid, but early studies and evidence from other viruses such as SARS, have shown that people of all ages can suffer for many months, even years afterwards, which could have major implications for employers.”
“Employers need to be aware that symptoms can fluctuate and sufferers may struggle to attend work consistently, underperform or be unable to work a full day. This could eventually take its toll mentally and physically on individuals and lead to them having to take time off.”
“Businesses are likely to see greater clinical diagnoses in the future as the NHS sets up Long Covid clinics throughout the UK and GPs are becoming better trained at recognising the symptoms.”
Howden highlights there are steps employers can take to limit the impact of Long Covid on their workforce such as:
- Reminding employees of the benefits available to them and how they can access them. Benefits such as Private Medical Insurance (PMI) and Income Protection can provide much needed medical and financial support as well as often including added value services such as EAPs, virtual GPs and emotional support
- Ensure line managers are familiar with your organisation’s benefits, policies and procedures and where they can signpost employees for appropriate support
- Employers should educate their workforce and particularly those with managerial responsibilities about recognising the main signs, symptoms and the fluctuating nature of Long Covid. These can include breathlessness, heart palpitations, lung damage, joint and muscle pain, fever, fatigue/exhaustion, insomnia, headaches, loss of taste and smell, and a lack of concentration (brain fog), as well as mental health issues including anxiety and depression
- Engaging with employees who are experiencing symptoms and supporting them where possible with reasonable adjustments such as flexible working hours, offering a phased return to work, continuous homeworking and Occupational Health support
Cheryl adds, “Long Covid is complicated and the effects are varied, but companies who provide specialist support for sufferers will help them on the road to recovery. One thing to remember is that a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely to work because this condition is new, and individuals may experience different symptoms.”
Howden in partnership with RedArc, the Group’s nurse support service, is offering a new service to help sufferers to manage their symptoms and aid their recovery. RedArc’s registered nurses have many years’ experience supporting people through long-term ill health via a co-ordinated, holistic approach.
Christine Husbands, Managing Director of RedArc says, “Our nurses can offer ongoing support for employees and help them manage symptoms and deal with the psychological and emotional impact Long Covid can have on their lives. They will also help people source relevant therapies from the NHS or through employee benefits, so they can make as sustained a return to work as possible
“This new condition could have lasting effects on the workforce in the future. By offering support now employers can help to safeguard their workforce and help people deal with their symptoms early on. This means people don’t need to suffer in silence or wait until they are struggling to cope, leading to the better outcomes for them and the business.”
The service costs a one-off £550 per employee which gives unlimited support from a RedArc nurse. Recommended therapies are sourced whenever possible from benefits available, but if required RedArc can source these for an additional cost.
For more information email: [email protected].
RedArc is part of Howden Group Holdings alongside Howden Employee Benefits and Wellbeing Limited.