Long COVID leaving thousands on Illness payment

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Close to 4,000 people may be on a disability payment unable to return to work due to Long COVID Galway TD Denis Naughten has said.

The Independent TD received figures from the Department of Social Protection, showing thousands of people who were on the Enhanced Illness Benefit for more than 10 weeks, who have since transferred to regular Illness Benefit.

Some 3,783 people had been on the regular illness benefit for more than two weeks as of June 24, having transferred over from the enhanced COVID payment.

“While Government has yet to provide any figures on the incidence of long Covid, there is no doubt that these figures from the Department of Social Protection are indicative of a significant challenge that we are facing,” Denis Naughten said.

This will be particularly challenging for the health service, he added, which will have to manage and treat the impacts associated with this condition.

“There was a sharp rise in the number of people in receipt of an illness payment experiencing Covid-19 in excess of 12 weeks over the winter period.”

“As these figures are released, 180 frontline health staff who are out of work for months as a result of long COVID are facing into their first week without the financial support provided under the special sick pay scheme for Covid that finished on June 30.”

“The special sick pay scheme leaves these 180 staff on traditional sick pay methods, where they can receive full sick pay for 12 weeks, then half pay for another 12 weeks, before relying on social welfare.”

“But because it operates on a rolling basis and sick pay taken in the past four years will be subtracted from the allowance, some of these staff are now facing their first week on a welfare payment.”

Deputy Naughten said that the figures he has received are only an indicator of a “much higher rate” of Long COVID in the community, with many others likely affected, but ineligible for benefits payments.

But, he added, they already make up 8-10% of people in receipt of the regular illness benefit payment in the country.

“Despite these very worrying trends the HSE is only now ‘scoping out’ a patient registry for long Covid.”

“So how can we manage this medical condition when we are not even measuring it?” asked Denis Naughten.