Scottish Labour has branded moves to end unlimited sick pay for NHS workers suffering from long Covid “reckless” and fears staff may lose their jobs over the plans.
The party’s health spokesperson, Jackie Baillie, hit out at plans to go back to pre-Covid sickness arrangements which will see staff get six months of full pay and six months of half pay if they are on long-term absence.
Ms Baillie warned members of staff may lose their jobs as a result of the change.
She said: “This is a reckless move by the Cabinet Secretary that could place staff and patients in danger.
“It is particularly difficult for those with long Covid, as their severe and debilitating condition means they cannot return to work quickly. This may lead to staff losing their jobs at a time when the NHS can ill afford to lose their expertise.
“Covid is once more on the rise, so too is long Covid – for the SNP Government to drop support for frontline NHS staff at this time is short-sighted, dangerous and wrongheaded.”
Speaking to the Daily Record on Monday, unions have also questioned the move.
Karen Leonard, of the GMB union, said the change makes “no sense”. She said: “It makes no sense for the Health Secretary to take the NHS off an emergency footing or to remove the sick leave support measures in place for workers suffering with long Covid.”
Esther O’Hara, of Unite, echoed Ms Leonard’s concerns. She told the Daily Record not enough is known about the impact of long Covid, adding: “We don’t really know what long Covid is.
“Will people always have it if they have it now? Will they gradually get better?
“Will they suddenly get better? Could they be fit enough to return to the workplace eventually? We just don’t know.
“Until we have a better picture of what long Covid is going to be, we should continue with the Covid arrangements for NHS staff – not least because of what so many staff have done during the pandemic to look after and support the public.
“We do understand that the sick pay arrangements are very costly but what are we saying to NHS workers about how the Government values them?”
“Banging pot lids on a Thursday night for NHS workers because you have nothing else to do then pulling the rug from under them shows how genuine the sentiments were.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Health Minister Craig Hoy said: “This announcement will come as a bitter blow to NHS staff struck down by long Covid.
“The SNP have let down every long Covid sufferer in Scotland by failing to set up the dedicated treatment clinics which are a feature of the NHS in England.
“Everyone in Scotland deserves as much help as possible to recover from this debilitating illness. But now dedicated Scottish NHS staff struck down with long Covid face the prospect of financial worries, on top of their health concerns.
“That is particularly unfair when many of them will have contracted Covid in the first place while working selflessly for us through the pandemic.”
Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “Both staff and patients will be filled with dread at this prospect.
“It seems as if the health secretary has learned nothing from the pandemic.
“Cases are spiking yet he is talking about dismantling our defences.
“When it’s SNP pet projects, like another referendum, they always seem to find the money but when it’s the safety of doctors, nurses and patients, this Government is telling people to take their chances.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said NHS Scotland staff had been entitled to full sick pay without a time limit since November 2020, but following the service being stood down from its emergency footing in April the “special leave provision will end on August 31”.
“At that point staff will move on to their contractual sick leave entitlement, which for the majority will mean a further six months of full pay followed by six months of half pay,” the spokesperson said.