15 Jan 2021

At time of writing the three people in my life who are most vulnerable to the Covid virus have now been vaccinated, one an NHS worker, one with underlying health conditions and one who is over 90. As more and more people become protected, more discussion is needed about the long-term effects of this pandemic. A study by the Covid Symptoms Study app estimates that around 2.2 % of people who have had symptomatic Covid will still have symptoms 12 weeks or more after the initial symptoms started. This is become known as Long Covid. Although, health watchdog NICE defines Long Covid as lasting for more than 12 weeks, the COVID Symptoms Study research shows that 20% of people will still have symptoms for eight weeks, some participants reporting symptoms over six months post initial infection. The research shows that Long Covid affects around 10% of 18-49 year olds who become unwell with Covid with women appearing to be slightly more likely to suffer from Long Covid than men (14.5% compared with 9.5%), in this age group, which means that many are of working age.

When you look at the numbers of people who are testing positive for Covid at the moment and extend that over the possible 12 months or more that this pandemic will last in total, even the 2.2% will account for tens of thousands of people in the UK.

The NHS lists the symptoms of Long Covid as being: extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”), difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, dizziness, pins and needles, joint pain, depression and anxiety, tinnitus, earaches, feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite, high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste and rashes. Two main patterns of symptoms have been identified by the research: those reporting exclusively fatigue, headache and upper respiratory complaints and those with multisystem complaints including ongoing fever and gastroenterological symptoms.

Many parallels are being drawn between Long Covid and other post viral conditions such as ME, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia amongst others. Indeed, some of the early Covid patients have now exceeded the six months of fatigue and are reaching the requirements for a diagnosis of CFS. As with people who experience these conditions, people who are experiencing Long Covid are finding that it is difficult to receive any formal diagnosis or treatment, never mind support returning to work. As it is still unclear how long the symptoms may continue for some employers may be reticent to invest in reasonable adjustments to enable their employees to return to work meaning that they are being left on long-term sick surviving on statutory sick pay.

In my four years of working as a software trainer and strategy coach with Enabling Technology, I have had the privilege of supporting many able and intelligent professionals who are living with these types of conditions to thrive in their workplaces. Therefore, hearing the stories of people struggling with similar symptoms I have felt empathy for them, having some small understanding of the frustration that they may be feeling. One client who has a condition that results in “brain fog” said that before she became ill she was in upper management, holding vast amounts of information in her head that she could recall at a moment’s notice, but since falling ill there are times when she can barely remember what she was doing five seconds ago. The positive for people with a diagnosis of ME, CFS and fibromyalgia, is that they are able to apply for support through access to work. However, for people struggling with Long Covid, even if it becomes a recognised disability under access to work, the length of time it can often take the provision to be put in place may be too late for them.

At Enabling Technology, we are looking at ways in which we may be able to help fill this need. At ways we can offer support to people with Long Covid in an affordable way mitigating the effects in the short-term enabling people to return to work while seeking recognition and support. We hope that our partners will also be moved to help this new group of disabled people in our community.

By Petra Wainwright