The RCN has dubbed the withdrawal of Covid-19 sick pay and special leave for NHS staff in England ‘neglectful and unfair’.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) confirmed to Nursing in Practice that staff in England will no longer receive special leave or sick pay for Covid-related absences from 7 July.
All staff will return to contractual sick pay and leave from 1 September, with the RCN reporting that a formal notice period will run from 4 to 31 August for staff on Covid sick arrangements from before 7 July, although the DHSC has not confirmed this.
However, the DHSC said all sickness periods that have been treated as Covid sickness and have not been counted towards normal sickness absence until 1 September will retain that status.
The NHS Staff Council will publish guidance to help employers manage this process, it added.
Patricia Marquis, RCN England director, said the ‘neglectful and unfair changes’ mean nurses who contracted Covid – which ‘some could argue is an occupational hazard’ – and remain off sick with long Covid face the threat of losing full pay.
She called the DHSC decision ‘hugely disappointing given that Covid-19 clearly hasn’t gone away’ and nursing staff ‘face a higher risk of exposure’.
Ms Marquis continued: ‘It’s another indication of how little the UK government values its nursing staff. NHS pay is barely enough to make ends meet at the best of times, and this will be another blow for some struggling with Covid-19-related health issues.’
A DHSC spokesperson said: ‘As we learn to live with Covid, we are withdrawing the temporary NHS staff sickness guidance that was put in place at the height of the pandemic, as part of plans to move back to the normal arrangements set out in the NHS terms and conditions.
‘This provides generous support for NHS staff with up to six months full pay and six months half pay, depending on length of service.’
Covid sick pay across UK
This comes after Wales today announced that staff off for Covid-related absences will move to half pay after a year off from 1 July, while Covid sick pay will end on 31 August in Scotland.
Dr Alison Twycross, chair of campaigning and support group Long Covid Nurses and Midwives UK, told Nursing in Practice that she is ‘slightly gobsmacked’ that England, Scotland and Wales ‘are all removing their Covid sick pay provision’.
She called on decision-makers to ‘look after NHS staff who continue to work on the frontline’, with data showing that healthcare professionals are more at risk of developing long Covid.
Nurses and midwives ‘who are off sick with long Covid feel the removal of their sick pay is a slap on the face’, she said, particularly as many worked without adequate PPE for portions of the pandemic.
She continued: ‘Allowing staff to return to a mentally and physically demanding job without knowing what is causing their symptoms may negatively impact on their recovery and is a potential patient safety issue. The changes in covid sick pay provision will only exacerbate the situation.
‘We know that for some of us recovering from Long Covid takes longer than 12 months – I am coming up to 28 months. Many will now face financial destitution because of it and may also lose the job they love. Anyone would think there wasn’t a workforce crisis in the NHS.’
‘I put the blame for this firmly at the feet of the UK Government and its blinkered approach to “living with Covid”. With cases now rising, adherence to this policy looks more and more crazy,’ she added.