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Landmark Legal Action Launched Against NHS Trusts for ‘Failure to Protect’ Staff During COVID Pandemic

The move comes amid harrowing personal accounts from healthcare workers who say they’ve suffered “devastating” injuries caused by preventable exposure to COVID-19 at work

Hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers are understood to have contracted Covid-19 while caring for sick patients. Some remain unable to work. Photo: Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire

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Hundreds of health care workers are launching legal action against NHS Trusts and other public bodies over their alleged failure to protect them from infection during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Law firm Bond Turner is already working with over 250 UK-based healthcare professionals who are living with life-altering physical, psychological and cognitive injuries, and who say they contracted the SARS-CoV-2 virus at work while caring for patients throughout the pandemic. Many more are expected to join the action in the coming weeks.

The action is being spearheaded by the Long Covid Doctors for Action Group (LCD4A). Although initiated by doctors, the action is open to all health care workers injured by COVID at work, in all four nations.

A 2023 BMA survey of over 600 doctors with Long Covid found that nearly one in five (18%) reported that they were now unable to work due to their resulting ill-health. There was also a reduction in the number of doctors with Long Covid symptoms working full-time. Less than a third (31%) of respondents now work full-time, down from 57% before their infection.

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Campaigners believe a significant number of NHS England workers may also be in a position to join the legal action if they contracted COVID at work, and to seek damages for the loss they have suffered.

“Some have lost their jobs and their homes; they are in financial ruin. Their illnesses have had far-reaching consequences in all areas of their lives,” said Sara Stanger, Director and Head of Clinical Negligence and Serious Injury Claims at Bond Turner.

Dr Kelly Fearnley is the chair of Long Covid Doctors for Action and is a Junior Doctor. She has spoken out about the “devastating” health issues she has suffered with after contracting COVID-19 at work.

“From the start of this pandemic, UK healthcare workers have been risking their lives and health caring for COVID patients without adequate protection. A significant number are now disabled following preventable occupational exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and are being managed out of the door with no support system in place and without means to financially support themselves and their families,” Dr Fearnley said.

“Not only have they lost their health and independence, they have lost their careers and livelihoods, with many now facing financial destitution.”

We Need to Talk About Long COVID: A Sufferer on the Silence Around the Public Health Crisis

Cat Fraser, who has lived with the chronic illness for years, says it’s time to get Long Covid on the agenda and give its many victims the support they need.

The campaigner and medic claimed that an increasing number of employers are “choosing to terminate contracts” of health workers who have Long Covid, adding: “We feel betrayed and completely abandoned.”

And Dr Fearnley called for healthcare workers to be provided with respiratory protection for the airborne disease which continues to circulate in health settings. 

Also joining the action is Nathalie MacDermott, a paediatric infectious diseases doctor and undertakes research into outbreak diseases, specifically Ebola virus disease. From March 2020 she was working on the frontline of the pandemic in the NHS, caring for children with a variety of infectious and immunological conditions. 

LCD4A note she contracted COVID at the end of March 2020 when exposed to a colleague at work. She recovered and returned to work 10 days later. But at the end of May 2020 she contracted COVID for the second time while caring for children affected by conditions related to COVID-19, ‘without adequate PPE’. “This second infection resulted in damage to her spinal cord resulting in long term disability and mobility problems, among other symptoms,” a spokesperson for LCD4A said. 

Bond Turner’s Sara Stanger added: As the nation stood at their doors clapping, our frontline NHS workers risked their lives while caring for patients, without proper protection. Thousands of healthcare workers who put their lives on the line caring for COVID patients in their hour of need contracted the virus themselves, and many have since developed Long Covid and are living with the devastating and life-altering effects. Some have been left severely disabled and, for some, the consequences of the infection proved to be fatal.

“This has had serious financial implications for those healthcare workers who have had prolonged periods of absence from work or have not been able to return to work, and for families who have lost loved ones who used to support them financially.

“We are encouraging all healthcare workers who believe they may have been affected to come forward and join the action as soon as possible, so there is sufficient time for their claim to be fully considered and investigated. A claim will be pursued against all those at fault and whoever is considered liable for the injuries and losses.”

The LCD4A is campaigning for long/post-acute Covid to be recognised as an occupational disease, to help healthcare workers diagnosed with this condition access and claim Industrial Injuries Disablement benefit. They say it would also improve access to other physical and mental health services. The British Medical Association, Royal College of Nursing and the TUC have all backed the call. 

Bond Turner is leading the action in England and Wales. In Scotland, it is legal firm  Jackson Boyd.

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The disgraced ex-PM also claimed “COVID is just nature’s way of dealing with old people” the official inquiry heard.

Voices of Long Covid Doctors for Action members

“Before COVID, I was working a 48-hour week, playing rugby twice a week, swimming and running in my spare time. I was fit, capable and always on the go. COVID stripped me of my independence. It nearly took my life. I am clinging on to my career, which is unrecognisable. I only still have a home and relationship because of the unbelievable support offered by my partner. Every day is hard; I will likely never play sport again. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.” – GP Registrar

“My life has completely changed since I contracted COVID and I fear I will never be the same person again. I have been in the news multiple times covering the story of my horrendous symptoms and I am glad I could raise awareness but all I want is to feel like me again. I was never an overly confident person but the confidence I did have has completely depleted. All I want is to be fit and well again but currently I am not. I feel lost, abandoned and distraught. 

“My disability has turned my life upside down and continues to do so. I have lost my partner, my normal way of life, job prospects, money, my enjoyment of the small things and my freedom… my life has changed forever. This has been a difficult period for me and I feel completely betrayed. I was fit and healthy before being diagnosed with COVID back in April 2020. This virus has had a severe impact on my life and sadly it is still doing so.” Pharmacist

“I lost my partnership plus the job and team I thought I’d be with for the rest of my career. I lost my health. I now spend every workday hoping I can do the minimum self-care necessary to allow me to work for four hours so that I don’t lose our family home. I am much better than I was at my worst and I am nowhere near who I used to be before I got ill. My mum is moving to live near me so that she can, in her 70s, help look after me. I will probably never recover financially from nine months with no income. And I have to convince people I’m really ill.” – GP

“I wake up tired every day; every day is a struggle to get through. I never feel I’m doing my best at work or at home with my son. I never feel I’m good enough and don’t think I will ever get back there. Now seriously thinking about non-acute careers as I am exhausted. It’s been 3.5 years!” – Consultant

“I worked on the front line as an NHS consultant during the first wave of the pandemic until I became unwell with COVID and then Long Covid. I’ve had to take ill-health retirement from my clinical role, from a specialty I love and spent years training in. Long Covid has ruined my career and the NHS has lost a consultant.” Consultant

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