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Staff on prolonged leave with long covid could be dismissed, says NHSE

Published on: 11 Feb 2022

Staff on prolonged sick leave due to long covid could be dismissed if ‘redeployment is not an option’ and they are unable to fulfil their contract, new NHS England guidance says.

The advice was set out in guidance published this month and follows the government’s temporary, non-contractual guidance that was issued in response to the coronavirus pandemic during its first waves.

The government’s advice aimed to provide a temporary enhancement of covid sick pay and meant that staff who were absent with covid would remain on full pay, therefore, did not feel pressured to return.

However, NHSE’s guidance warned that “while this provision is still available, it is possible that it may change”.

The move has been seen as an inevitable step as the guidance was brought in as an emergency measure, while some employers may have been holding off dismissing staff with long covid or covid-related absences due to guidelines in place.

Long covid is a term usually used to describe covid symptoms that continue to develop four weeks post-diagnosis.

NHSE’s new Guidelines for supporting our NHS people affected by long covid said: “According to [the] guidance, periods of covid-19 sick pay would not be counted towards a colleague’s normal sickness entitlements.

“However, if a colleague is approaching long-term sickness (for a period of 12 months or more), the employing organisation would be expected to complete a review at 12 months to understand the ongoing need and potential challenges with a return to work.

It adds: “Consideration of dismissal due to the colleague being unable to fulfil their contract should only be considered if redeployment is not an option.”

The guidance also says:

  • If an individual feels they cannot fulfil their role due to long covid symptoms, then an early retirement request should be treated “the same way” it would be for any other illness;
  • Staff working in primary care and employed by an independent contractor could still have access to the provision as additional funding was made available to GP practices through the general practice covid capacity expansion fund;
  • Trusts are advised to treat staff on visas, including medical graduates, who require reduced hours on a “case-by-case basis” and explored through “one-on-one conversations”; and
  • Doctors in training, including those on GP or dental placements, are employed through the national NHS terms and conditions and have access to the normal NHS sickness absence provisions