The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has intensified calls for long Covid to be recognised as an industrial disease for nurses.
RCN general secretary Pat Cullen spoke about the condition, also known as post-Covid syndrome, as an exhibition run by the union opened memorialising the early pandemic period.
“The clapping may have finished, but Covid-19 and its effects on the nursing community continue”
Unmasked: Real Stories of Nursing in Covid-19 opened today, coinciding with International Nurses Day.
It includes the diaries of the nurses who kept beloved children’s author Michael Rosen alive while he lay in a medically induced coma, personal stories of nurses in Covid-19 wards, and other exhibits to commemorate the emergency period.
Ms Cullen described the protections of nurses during the early emergency period as “woefully inadequate”.
Meanwhile, she said it was important to remember that Covid-19 was not over for nurses, particularly those with long Covid.
“The clapping may have finished, but Covid-19 and its effects on the nursing community continue,” said Ms Cullen.
“The protection nursing staff were given during the pandemic was woefully inadequate. The official guidance was confusing, ambiguous, and downplayed the risk of airborne transmission.
“More than 2,200 health and social care workers in the UK died after contracting Covid-19.”
She repeated calls made previously by herself, and other union leaders, over the past few years to designate long Covid as an industrial disease.
This designation would allow nurses with long-term health problems caused by contracting Covid-19 at work to access financial support, in the form of industrial injuries disablement benefit, more easily.
Currently, certain chronic post-Covid symptoms are being recommended for industrial disease status, and Covid-19 was listed as an industrial disease in one inquest earlier this year.
However, long Covid as a whole has not received industrial disease status.
Ms Cullen added: “The Covid-19 inquiry also must leave no stone unturned and not only look back to what went wrong but also forward to ensure any lessons learnt are acted on so staff are never left unprotected again.”
The Unmasked exhibition opened today at the RCN Library and Heritage Centre in London and runs until 12 October, when it will move to Edinburgh until April 2024.
As well as the Michael Rosen patient diaries, written by his nurses while he lay in a coma in March-April 2020 for 48 days, the exhibition also highlights personal stories from a range of nurses working during the pandemic.
“To keep safe was a massive task in itself”
Unmasked hopes to recognise the trials nurses went through during the pandemic, and shows items from the RCN archive, St Barts Health archives, the British Red Cross Museum and the Old Operating Theatre.
It also includes a doodle wall of art made by nursing staff, thinking back on the Covid-19 lockdown period.
Speaking on the opening of the exhibition, Kevin Morley, assistant practitioner and chair of RCN UK Nursing Support Workers Committee, recalled his own struggles during the emergency period.
He said: “Having to go to work in a community that had a high risk of Covid-19, then going home where I have a vulnerable husband.
“Our lobby-way turned into a changing room because you would change out of your work clothes and head straight into the shower. You lived separate lives. To keep safe was a massive task in itself.”
Rebecca Batley, a nurse who participated in the exhibition, added: “Our job is busy and tough at times but the bond as nurses we have shared at the most stressful time in our career has made our team unique, and our support of one another is second to none”