As we continue to adjust to the impacts of the global pandemic on our way of life. There remains an opportunity to reflect on the potential legacy COVID-19 may have withing our working environments both positive and negative.
As with any reflection, it is helpful to look back and see how we got to where we are.
Following the emergence of a new novel coronavirus in late 2019. In February 2020i, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that following the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) provide its new designation of the pathogenic virus as; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), it [the WHO] had named the disease which can be caused by SARS-CoV-2 as COVID-19.
On the 11 March 2020, WHO’s Director-General announced the number of cases of COVID-19 outside of the geographical area in which it was believed to have originated had increased 13-fold, and the number of affected countries had tripled within two weeks.
“There are now more than 118,000 cases in 114 countries, with 4,291 deaths.”
He continued to say…
“WHO has been assessing this outbreak around the clock and we are deeply concerned both by the alarming levels of spread and severity, and by the alarming levels of inaction.
We have therefore made the assessment that COVID-19 can be characterized as a pandemic.”ii
Since the first confirmed cases of COVID-19 until 9 March 2021, the cumulative data shows that the globally total had reached iii
116,736,437 confirmed cases, with 2,593,285 deaths
Of those global figures for that period, the UKiv accounted for
4,241,666 confirmed case* with 125,452 deaths†
Since March 2020, the UK has seen a string of measures aimed at trying to stop the NHS and health care system being overwelled including three national lockdowns.
Given the figures above and the knowledge of disparities in risks and outcomes based on different factors such as age, sex, deprivation, region and ethnicityv, the debate will no doubt continue on the timing and effectiveness of these measures and evaluating the lessons learned in managing a public health crisis.
In the years to come, the true short and long-term fiscal and social economic costs of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave a legacy for the next generation, bring their own challenges for society and for those working in the Courts, Probation and Prisons system.
In the short term whilst those effected by the number of deaths come to terms with the vacuum left behind and management of their grief in the passing of a loved one. However, for those who have had or may develop COVID-19 in the future, there remains a potential individual legacy.
As more has been learnt about the impact of COVID-19 on the human body during the course of the pandemic enabling more effective treatment and the development of vaccines to seek to combat it. Whilst this has prompted a reduction in mortality, some have been left with long-term health effects from the disease, the term ‘long COVID’ being adopted to describe the condition.
Within the UK the has resulted in the National Instituter for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), working together with the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) have set out the clinical definitions for the initial ill health effects of COVID-19 and the emergence of long COVID at different times:
In addition to the clinical case definitions, ‘long COVID’ is commonly used to describe signs and symptoms that continue or develop after acute COVID19. It includes both ongoing symptomatic COVID19 and postCOVID19 syndrome (defined above).vii
Whist post viral illness and fatigue may be common with many different infections, with the majority recovering after a short period of recuperation. For those who experienced prolonged symptoms of post viral fatigue, it can lead to a potential diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) also known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME).
In 2007 NICE published Clinical guideline [CG53] viii which stated,
“There is a lack of epidemiological data for the UK, so population estimates are based on extrapolations from other countries. Overall, evidence suggests a population prevalence of at least 0.2–0.4%”
The charity Action for M.E., suggests within the working population the number of people with CFS/ME could equate to around 1 in 250, with a higher prevalence rate in women aged 25-50ix.
In comparison data released on 1 April 2021 by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) x showed that,
“Over the four-week period ending 6 March 2021, an estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing long COVID (symptoms persisting more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) episode that are not explained by something else)” ‡
The data showed that
1 in 5 experiencing long COVID symptoms after an initial four weeks,
1 in 7 experiencing long COVID symptoms after twelve weeks post-infection.
There was higher prevalence in female than male participants and people aged 35 to 69 years, whilst.
The scale of these prevalence rates there is a high likelihood of this being replicated within those employed in the Courts, Probation and Prisons workforce, who have had COVID-19.
Whilst we have an amazing NHS and rehabilitation services to support those experiencing long COVID are being rolled out https://www.yourcovidrecovery.nhs.uk
It is possible that due to demand, these services may not be able to meet all the needs of those seeking support in returning to the work environment. As a result, a number of Occupational Health providers now provide employers with additional services to support employees with rehabilitation and return to work.
I would encourage individuals experiencing long COVID or who have developed a long-term health condition as a result of COVID-19 to either talk to their manager or make direct enquires with their Occupational Health referral processes to see if they can assist them.
Whilst there are signs that those experiencing long COVID do respond to rehabilitation treatments, unfortunately this might not be the case for everyone in the circumstances.
If this is the case, it is highly likely that they would meet the definition of the protected characteristic of “disability” under the Equality Act 2010xi (in England, Wales Scotland) and Disability Discrimination Act 1995xii (in Northern Ireland). In that, if someone has a physical or mental impairment and that impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their normal day-to-day activities, they will meet the definition of having a “disability”.
Employees are required to make “reasonable adjustment” to facilitate you being able to undertake your role. This can include make changes to things like how, where or the way you do your role, such as delayed start times, working locations etc.
If you find yourself in this position and you are a union member, talk to your union representative.
Whilst the impact of the pandemic has presented challenges to our everyday lives, with the issues of adapting to new technology, working from home and whilst trying to maintain a healthy work life balance against competing workload pressures, or for some dealing with the mental and emotional effects of isolation.
Along with phrases such as “excess mortality, “viral loads” and “R number”. Over the last year the requirements of health and safety legislation have never been more relevant to keeping us safe within the workplace.
Proving that they are in fact not “needless red tape”, but vital, such as the requirements of The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992xiii. These have required employers to ensure adequate; ventilation, room temperature, room capacity, cleaning, for nearly 30 years prior to the global pandemic.
It has reaffirmed the importance of employers’ adherence to health and safety, and the crucial role Trade Union Health and Safety Representative perform in helping to keep the workplace safe for all.
As services transition into resuming some sort of business-as-usual operation, one thing is certain, the risks from SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 remain for the foreseeable future.
Mike Hines, National Official Health & Safety
*Number of people with at least one positive COVID-19 test result, either lab-reported or rapid lateral flow test (England only)
† Number of deaths of people who had had a positive test result for COVID-19 and died within 28 days of the first positive test
‡ The ONS identified the estimates were based upon “Experimental Statistics” in the testing phase and not yet fully developed.
i https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/technical-guidance/naming-the-coronavirus-disease-(covid-2019)-and-the-virus-that-causes-it (World Heralth Organization (WHO), 2020)
ii https://www.who.int/director-general/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19—11-march-2020 (WHO, 2020)
iii https://www.paho.org/en/documents/epidemiological-update-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-11-march-2021 (Pan American Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), 2021)
iv https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/details/cases (Gov.UK, 2021)
v https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-review-of-disparities-in-risks-and-outcomes (Public Health England (PHE), 2020)
vi https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng188 (National Instituter for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), , 2020)
vii https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng188 (National Instituter for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), , 2020)
ix https://www.actionforme.org.uk/uploads/me-and-work.pdf (Action for M.E., et al., 2013)
x https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/1april2021 (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2021)
xi https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents (legislation.gov.uk, 2010)
xii https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1995/50/introduction (legislation.gov.uk, 1995)
xiii https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1992/3004/contents/made (Legislation.gov.uk, 1992)