Employers should consider adding digital access to GPs, early intervention services and private healthcare to their benefits arsenal to effectively manage the hidden threat posed by long Covid.
Christine Husbands, managing director at nursing service provider RedArc Nurses, told Health & Professional employers should make themselves aware of the multi-symptom, fluctuating nature of long Covid and offer affected employees with any and all of the symptoms access to all relevant treatments as quickly as possible.
“Effective management such as pacing for those suffering from extreme fatigue, breathing exercises for those with respiratory problems as well as psychological support are examples of the wide-ranging support required.”
A spokesperson for risk industry body GRiD told Health & Protection that employers with group income protection in place will find that the early intervention services that are embedded within a group income protection policy are set to come into their own, adding some providers have also introduced more specialised long Covid support.
“Other services embedded within all the group risk products – including life assurance and critical illness – will also come into play in aiding recovery and return to work for long Covid sufferers, such as employee assistance programmes, access to counselling and online GP services.
“Potentially, long Covid will be with us well beyond the worst of the pandemic so it makes sense for employers to plan how to manage it and put support in place (if they haven’t already) to help employees suffering from its debilitating effects.”
But Debra Clark, head of specialist consulting at healthcare intermediary Towergate Health & Protection, warns the impact and extent of long Covid is only just beginning to become clear, with the latest data from the Office of National Statistics suggesting over 1m people in the UK are experiencing symptoms for more than four weeks after their initial infection.
“With 13% of symptomatic Covid patients still reporting symptoms more than 12 weeks after becoming infected, there are clear implications for UK businesses, with a real risk of a sharp increase in sickness absence rates in the coming year.
“The first thing is for employers to be aware of the potential signs that someone is suffering with long Covid. There are many different potential symptoms, and it is harder to identify when a lot of people are currently working remotely. Initial awareness and understanding are key.
“Long Covid is still a relatively new phenomenon and so we are learning all the time, but insurers are responding to the need it is creating. Digital GP access could potentially help with getting a diagnosis faster than through an appointment with an NHS GP. If long Covid is having an impact on mental health, then EAPs can be a great first port of call to offer support to employees.
“Some providers are now looking at specific long Covid support solutions. These include relevant and appropriate signposting for people, and suggestions on things they can do to help themselves. They are predominantly being provided digitally so are convenient for all who are eligible, and some are appropriate to roll out as a whole-of-workforce solution, not just for those employees with company health insurance.”
And Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy at Holden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing, warns as many long Covid sufferers will be in the working age population, until the return to the physical workplace begins, it’s unlikely that employers will know if long Covid is a problem within their workforce.
“Returning someone to contracted hours plus the daily grind of commuting is a big ask if the individual is already struggling just to work from a home environment with long Covid conditions currently…
“Other health conditions may have also become a problem over the last year (mental/physical issues may have gone undiagnosed and/or treated) – so another potential problem with the return to the physical workplace there too.
“The bottom line is that employers need their workers back and working at full capacity/productivity as quickly as possible to make up the ground lost in the last 14 months. Obviously people being off with long Covid (or other conditions the employer wasn’t expecting) is a big potential headwind there.”