Crippling symptoms, lost careers, and eroded incomes: This is the harsh reality for doctors suffering with long COVID, according to the first major survey of physicians with the condition.
The survey, conducted by the British Medical Association and the Long COVID Doctors for Action support group, sheds light on the lingering effects of long COVID on more than 600 chronically ill and disabled doctors with the condition. It also spotlights what they describe as a lack of medical and financial support from their government and employers at the National Health Service.
“We feel betrayed and abandoned,” said Kelly Fearnley, MBChB, chair and cofounder of Long COVID Doctors for Action. “At a time of national crisis, when health care workers were asked to step up, we did. When the nation needed us, we stepped up. We put our lives on the line. We put our families’ lives on the line. And now that we are injured after knowingly being unprotected and deliberately and repeatedly exposed to a level 3 biohazard, we now find ourselves in this position.”
Dr. Fearnley fell ill while working in a hospital’s COVID ward in November 2020. She is one of an estimated 2 million people in the United Kingdom – including thousands of NHS employees – with long COVID. She hasn’t been able to return to work in nearly 3 years.
Long COVID affects more than 65 million people worldwide. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people infected with the virus develop long-term symptoms. In the United Kingdom, health care and social care workers are seven times more likely to have had severe COVID-19 than other types of employees.
Doctors responding to the BMA survey reported a wide range of long COVID symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, muscular pain, nerve damage, joint pain, and respiratory problems.
Among the survey’s key findings, 60% of doctors said long COVID has affected their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks on a regular basis. Almost one in five (18%) said they were no longer able to work, while fewer than one in three (31%) were working full time. This compares with more than half (57%) of respondents working full time before the onset of their COVID illness – a decline of 46%.
Nearly half (48%) of respondents said they have experienced some form of loss of earnings as a result of long COVID, and almost half of the doctors were never referred to an NHS long COVID clinic. The survey included the following first-person accounts from doctors living with the condition.
- One doctor said: “I nearly lost my life, my home, my partner and my career. I have received little support to help keep these. The impact on my mental health nearly cost [me] my life again.”
- A senior consulting physician commented: “Life is absolutely miserable. Every day is a struggle. I wake up exhausted, the insomnia and night terrors are horrendous as I live through my worst fears every night. Any activity such as eating meals, washing, etc., will mean I have to go to bed for a few hours. I am unable to look after myself or my child, exercise or maintain social relationships. I have no financial security. Long COVID has totally destroyed my life.”
- A salaried general practitioner said: “I can no longer work, finances are ruined. I didn’t have employment protection so am now unemployed and penniless.”