Teachers call for long Covid to be recognised as a disability

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Teachers are asking for long Covid to be legally recognised as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Long Covid is when people who have contracted Covid-19 continue to have a number of lingering symptoms for weeks or even months after they begin to recover. Its medical name is post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC).

The new campaign is being led by the NASUWT and was launched at its recent Disabled Teachers’ Consultation Conference.

According to new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS, 2021), at least one million people in the UK were living with Long Covid as of May 2, more than a third of whom (376,000) had had Covid at least a year previously.

Two-thirds of the sufferers (about 650,000) said the condition was affecting their day-to-day activities with the most common symptoms being fatigue (547,000 people), followed by shortness of breath (405,000), muscle ache (313,000), and difficulty concentrating (285,000).

In April, the NASUWT called upon schools to recognise long Covid in their sickness policies after data showed that education, health and social care workers were among those most likely to contract long Covid.

The latest figures echo previous ONS data published in April which found that during the four-week period to March 6, 1.1 million people reported long Covid. This included 114,000 teaching and education professionals and 122,000 healthcare workers.

NASUWT wants to see reasonable adjustments, flexible working and financial compensation for teachers left unable to teach as a result of contracting long Covid at work.

Symptoms of long Covid range from mild to incapacitating and all age ranges are affected. Some estimates show that one in 10 people with Covid will get some form of long Covid.

Symptoms that can linger include fatigue, shortness of breath, cough, joint or chest pain, muscle pain or headaches, fast heartbeat, loss of smell or taste, and memory, concentration or sleep problems.

The latest ONS data is for the four weeks to May 2 and shows that an estimated one million people reported experiencing long Covid during that period.

Julie Stanborough, head of health analysis and life events at the ONS, said: “Self-reported long Covid was most common in people aged 35 to 69 years, women, those living in the most deprived areas, and those living with an existing disability or health condition.

“Our analysis also shows that health and social care workers had a higher prevalence of self-reported long Covid than those working in other sectors, but this was largely driven by the risk of initial infection and other socio-demographic factors such as age, sex and location.”

NASUWT general secretary Dr Patrick Roach said: “Teachers have stepped up to the frontline of this pandemic and have put their health at risk to educate our children and young people. It is deeply alarming that the ONS has since identified a high incidence of long Covid within the profession.

“With the serious risk of emerging variants, more teachers could still be vulnerable to developing this condition and find themselves unable to work, at threat of financial hardship and without sufficient legal protections. No teacher experiencing long Covid should be forced to live in this fear.

“The government needs to consider regulations that ensure access to ill-health retirement provision for those with long Covid. Ministers must, as a matter of urgency, provide financial compensation for all teachers, including supply teachers, where their careers have been impacted due to Covid-19.”

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