The Government has been urged to launch a compensation scheme for frontline workers who are suffering from the long-term effects of coronavirus.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Coronavirus said Prime Minister Boris Johnson should recognise long Covid as an occupational disease, saying some sufferers have found it hard to return to work.
Symptoms of long Covid include ongoing fatigue, loss of taste or smell, and respiratory and cardiovascular problems, and this week Professor Danny Altmann, from Imperial College London, said up to 20% of patients are reporting symptoms of the disease weeks after becoming ill.
APPG chairwoman Layla Moran said: “Long Covid is the hidden health crisis of the pandemic, and it is likely to have an enormous impact on society for many years to come.
“When it comes to frontline NHS, care and key workers, they were specifically asked to go to work and save lives while everyone else was asked to stay at home.
“They were exposed to an increased level of risk of catching the virus, often without adequate levels of PPE.”
The group wants the Government to follow France, Germany, Belgium and Denmark, which have formally recognised Covid as an “occupational disease”.
Liberal Democrat Ms Moran added: “They are the true heroes of the pandemic and, sadly, many have developed the debilitating effects of long Covid, meaning that they are unable to return to full-time work.
“The Government cannot abandon them now or ever. The least the Government can do is recognise their sacrifice by recognising their condition as an occupational disease, launching a compensation scheme, and save the livelihoods of those who save lives.”
A letter, signed by more than 60 MPs and peers, has been sent to Mr Johnson.
Their call has been backed by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) Council, who said a compensation scheme to support healthcare staff is “only right”.
He added: “After being exposed to increased risk working on the front line during the Covid-19 pandemic, there are now healthcare workers across the country living with the long-term, debilitating impacts of having caught the virus.
“We have heard harrowing stories from doctors suffering with long Covid, who are often unable to work, threatening their financial stability and affecting their lives at home.
“The dedication and selflessness shown by healthcare workers over the last year, and the debt of gratitude owed to them, cannot be under-estimated.
“While the Government and employers must increase efforts to protect staff now and stop them contracting Covid-19 in the first place, for some it is already too late.”
Four major studies into the long-term effects of coronavirus will be boosted by £18.5 million of Government funding.
The cause, symptoms and effects of long Covid will be investigated during the research, Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on Thursday.
But Dr Helena McKeown, chairwoman of the BMA’s representative body, said it would be “negligent” to just focus on research and wait too long before compensating frontline workers who have developed the condition.
She told BBC Breakfast: “We know people – doctors, nurses, other frontline key workers – who contracted Covid back in the spring (last year) and still have symptoms.
“Some people have already lost their livelihoods. We know GPs who have had to leave their practices, and other doctors and healthcare workers.”
She said the Government cannot “just say ‘Wait whilst we get evidence in five years’ time or so’.
“What about these people now who need help with their families and their livelihoods?”