“We have heard powerful stories that ongoing Covid19 symptoms are experienced by all age groups, from the youngest children to the oldest people, and people from all backgrounds. We cannot assume that groups who are at low risk of life-threatening disease and death during acute infections are also at low risk on living with Covid19 long term.”
The above quote is taken directly from the "Living with Covid" report issued last week by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). That paragraph highlights one of the great future unknowns of the current pandemic; how many people will be left with long-term symptoms once the pandemic death toll finally subsides?
Of course we have already looked into this subject on the Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing Blog before. But the evidence and data on the virus is growing all the time, and this latest report looks in detail at the range of conditions which are already being experienced, the incidence of which are only likely to be magnified as the winter resurgence of the pandemic takes hold.
The BBC news website also briefly commented on this story last week, and summarised the potential long-term symptoms of COVID-19 into four different syndromes:
- Permanent organ damage to the lungs and heart
- Post intensive-care syndrome
- Post-viral fatigue syndrome
- Continuing COVID-19 symptoms
It’s worth reinforcing that severe initial infection and/or hospitalisation is not a pre-requisite of suffering one or more of the above outcomes. Many people – including those who were fit and healthy with relatively mild symptoms at the point of contracting the virus – are struggling to shake off the effects weeks or months after the initial infection occurred.
Another concern is the “fluctuating” nature of symptoms. To quote directly from the report;
“People expected the abatement of one symptom was the “end” of their Covid19 experience and were devastated when a new symptom appeared”
“The biggest challenge for many was not the individual symptoms, but their unpredictability and their dashed hopes of recovery after a few good days”
All or which adds to the gloom of the current news agenda, and also our collective understanding of the challenges for individuals, their families, and indeed their employers too. Most importantly it strongly suggests that the nation – and indeed the entire globe – may face a rather lengthy healthcare legacy long after the initial battle to save lives has been concluded.
Of course much of the data and evidence in this area remains a work in progress given the relatively brief period of time available to study COVID-19 since it was first identified. Ultimately there will be a need to classify the various illnesses within distinct clinical definitions so that the appropriate treatment can be researched, sourced, and provided. And those same classifications will doubtless also inform and dictate the support provided by employer-funded workplace benefits such as Private Medical Insurance and Group Income Protection policies.
So what now?
But this sort of detail is not yet available.
So for the moment we would encourage employers to read the NIHR report and understand that the range of long-term illness associated with COVID-19 is much wider than many people yet realise. And we would also strongly encourage all employers to revisit their Employee Benefit provisions to ensure that a really robust package of measures is provided to help employees, their families, and indeed the employer too.
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.
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