19 August 2020
Earlier this year I wrote about the potentially long road back to full health for many people that had contracted and survived Covid-19, and already research suggests that more than 250,000 people in the UK have experienced symptoms that lasted for more than a month.
Yet a few unlucky individuals might well experience an extended period of serious illness long after the initial symptoms have passed.
An indication as to the range of longer term issues and symptoms that might be encountered can be found via the below national news headlines (and links) from June:
19/06/20: Calls for awareness of long-term effects
23/06/20: Thousands could be left with lung damage
29/06/20: Survivors at risk of PTSD
And as time passes – and as the experience of contracting and surviving Covid-19 becomes resultantly more commonplace – it is becoming increasingly apparent that such longer term illnesses might well become another significant challenge for the nation in its collective battle to beat coronavirus.
“Long Covid” Experiences
Of course understanding the full extent of long-term conditions will take time, particularly as the virus was only formally identified in December 2019, so as yet there is only a very limited pool of long-term data available to study.
Yet already there are suggestions that a new term, “Long Covid”, should instead be used to avoid sufferers being routinely labelled with existing terms until much more is known. In this way it is hoped that symptoms of Covid-19 will benefit from more targeted research and support, which will hopefully improve recovery times and outcomes. It’s also worth highlighting that the need for such a catch-all term is all too apparent when you read some of the wide-range of personal stories from those unlucky enough to suffer longer-term effects. A collection of such stories can be found on these pages from the Covid-19 Recovery Collective.
It should perhaps also be mentioned that not all these stories arise from those who were hospitalised with Covid-19. Indeed many are perhaps finding that they suffered relatively minor symptoms at outset, but have nevertheless faced a real battle to return to full health in the weeks and months since their initial coronavirus illness.
What about long-term absence?
Whilst it is useful for employers to be aware of the above, it’s still far too early to predict whether this will present a major absence problem for UK employers in the months and years immediately ahead. Yet the long-term health impacts of the pandemic extend well beyond those that have contracted and survived Covid-19.
For it seems more than likely that there will be an increase in illness and resultant workplace absence connected to non-Covid-19 conditions, many of which were not diagnosed and/or treated during the months of UK lockdown. This is potentially a much more widespread issue for employees and employers alike, and was the central subject of Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing’s recent webinar “The Changing Healthcare Landscape”, which featured a panel of medical and Employee Benefits experts. The full video of that informative debate can be seen here.
When taken in tandem these two issues suggest that a rise in more serious and longer-term health conditions for many workers is now perhaps more likely than not. It naturally follows that employers should ensure that all the elements of their health-related Employee Benefits offerings are fit for purpose, well promoted, and utilised as needed.
For more information on any of the above topics, please speak to your usual Howden Consultant in the first instance, or visit our website for other contact options. For the latest details on COVID-19 & Employee Benefits provision please visit our coronavirus hub.
Steve is Head of Benefits Strategy, Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, and is an award-winning thought leader on Pensions, Employee Benefits, and Human Resources issues. He is occasionally accused of making Employee Benefits interesting.