Northern Ireland news

Health service staff with long Covid receiving full pay after six months due to 'public service' exemption

Long Covid has affected hundreds of frontline workers across Northern Ireland
Seanín Graham

HEALTH service staff suffering from long Covid are receiving full pay after being off work for more than six months as part of a 'public service' exemption.

Northern Ireland's health and social care workers are included within a "special leave category" if they contract coronavirus, according to the Public Health Agency (PHA).

This means their absence will not be recorded under normal sick leave entitlement - when full pay stops at around 28 weeks in the public sector.

Sources say that concerns have been raised by some staff who are on long-term sick leave following a cancer diagnosis who have their wages slashed in half after six months, with HR departments currently dealing with complaints.

The 'half-pay' period lasts for a further six months, after which you must apply for basic statutory sick pay allowance which is set as a minimum of £96.35 a week.

It is understood hundreds of frontline staff on long-term sick leave due to long covid - a severely debilitating condition causing extreme fatigue and chronic muscle pain - are currently in receipt of the 'Public Service Duties' payment.

The Belfast trust confirmed 42 of its employees have been absent for more than six months but are receiving their full wage under the scheme.

One source said that staff dealing with a cancer diagnosis are usually absent for 16 to 18 months so they will be relying on statutory sick pay for a third of their leave.

"Staff, particularly those dealing with cancer or have family members off with illness, have been continually asking about their sick pay and if the process will change," he said.

"Hundreds of staff with Long Covid have received full pay for a year now right across the trusts and it is creating difficulties for those on basic sick pay."

Omicron has led to unprecedented levels of sickness absence across the frontline, with more than 1,000 staff off work due to Covid-19 in the Belfast trust alone this week.

The PHA confirms on its website that the special category payment - made across the NHS - is part of measures to prevent the spread in health service settings: "In order to mitigate any risks of Covid-19 spreading across the organisation it is important that staff with symptoms do not come into the workplace.

"Sickness absence related to Covid-19 will not form part of any absence triggers, and will not be viewed as such in relation to a member of staff’s sickness absence record.

"Line managers will record Covid-19 sickness as special leave category ‘Public Service Duties Paid’...but this is strictly to allow us to monitor and report on the impact of absence(s) across the organisation.

"Staff should receive their full pay, that is, the pay they would have received had they been at work."

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