Counting the financial cost of long Covid

Doctors suffering with long Covid can be vulnerable financially – it’s important to understand your entitlements and to plan ahead, taking independent financial advice.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to take its toll on the NHS – as doctors and nurses care for patients, but also as they succumb to the virus themselves. In particular, the long-term effects of Covid-19 are only just beginning to emerge; they could have a dramatic impact on your ability to continue working – and therefore on your finances – even after what initially felt like a mild version of the bug.

“Long Covid” is a new illness that scientists are still attempting to get to grips with; the long-term effects and recovery periods are uncertain. However, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence defines long Covid as signs and symptoms that continue to develop after an acute Covid-19 infection; it includes both ongoing symptomatic Covid-19 from four to 12 weeks, and post-Covid-19 syndrome lasting for more than 12 weeks.

This is a more widespread problem than many people realise. Data from the Office of National Statistics suggests around 1.8 million Britons are experiencing Covid-19 symptoms that have lasted for more than four weeks. Almost three-quarters say this has adversely affected the quality of their day-to-day lives.

The condition can be debilitating, with really difficult impacts on both the sufferer and their family. For doctors, symptoms such as shortness of breath, aching limbs, headaches, and feeling constantly and generally exhausted, can make it very difficult to work.

Check your sick pay

For these reasons, it is important that doctors and other NHS workers understand what sick pay they currently qualify for. Without such support, or when sick pay runs out, you may find yourself in financial distress on top of your health problems.

Typically, your NHS sick pay entitlement is dependent on your length of service:

  • During the first year of your service, you can claim sick pay at your full rate of pay for up to one month and then at half-pay for up to two further months.
  • During your second year, this increases to up to two months of full pay and two months of half-pay.
  • During your third year, you’re entitled to up to four months of full pay and four months of half-pay.
  • During your fourth and fifth years, this goes up to five months of full pay and five months of half-pay.
  • Once you’ve completed five years of service, you’ll be entitled to claim sick pay for up to six months at full pay and a further six months at half-pay.

However, check your contract carefully. For GPs, agency staff and locum workers in particular, sick pay entitlement is less structured. Some people, including locum workers, may not be entitled to any sick pay at all.

Whatever you’re entitled to, it’s worth considering income protection insurance. This cover will pay out if you’re unable to work due to ill-health, with payments starting as soon as your sick pay reduces in value and lasting until you’re better – or until you retire, potentially on ill-health grounds.

One particularly valuable aspect of income protection is that you can make as many claims as you need to on your policy, until its end date – usually, your normal retirement date as set out in the NHS Pension Scheme. This can make a huge difference for sufferers of long Covid, where symptoms can vary over an extended period – there may be times when you feel up to working, only to feel too ill once again in the future.

Income protection insurance can also be used to top up your income if you don’t feel well enough to work as many hours.

Retiring early

For older doctors and those suffering from long Covid over the long term, retiring early due to ill-health may be the right option. Importantly, now that long Covid is a recognised condition, the NHS Business Services Authority (NHSBSA) has said it will consider applications for ill-health retirement pensions from NHS Pension Scheme members suffering with it. But it’s important to understand that these applications will be considered in the same way as claims related to any other condition. In particular, in order to retire early on ill-health grounds, you will need to show that your long Covid is “permanent”.

In practice, this means showing that the condition and your symptoms leave you permanently incapable of doing your NHS role or similar work up to your normal pension age, so this will mean the State Pension Age for 2015 scheme membership. The NHBSA stresses that it will consider each application individually on the evidence provided.

The bottom line is that long Covid has the potential to cause doctors and their families real problems from a financial perspective. But it is possible to take precautions if you’re well informed. A Chase de Vere Medical independent financial adviser can help you make the right arrangements, including securing the best income protection policy for your needs.

Content correct at time of writing and is intended for general information only and should not be construed as advice.

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