Frontline workers call for immediate action amid continuing fears over Covid-19
Workers on the frontline during the pandemic are “angry” over a lack of support and protection as they prepare to face more autumn and winter challenges from Covid-19.
Amid calls for immediate action by policymakers, many frontline employees say they’re worried about being exposed to the virus as lockdown restrictions lift across the UK and that some are working while experiencing the effects of Long Covid.
The concerns are expressed in the latest report for the CV19 Heroes Project, which is tracking the welfare of frontline workers, including health and social care staff, police and other emergency service workers, and supermarket employees.
Carried out by Dr Rachel Sumner from the University of Gloucestershire and Dr Elaine Kinsella from the University of Limerick, ‘White noise, white heat: A call to action from the frontline’ includes recommendations to policymakers to compensate existing, and prevent future, occupational exposure to Covid-19 in the workplace.
Dr Sumner and Dr Kinsella will present their research findings to an All-Party Parliamentary Group looking at the Government’s response to Covid-19 for the second time on Tuesday.
Dr Sumner, lead author of the report, said: “Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic moves into a new phase with the successful roll-out of vaccines in adults in the UK, over the autumn and winter months to come it is vitally important to defend and protect the frontline workforce who have sacrificed so much over the last 18 months.
“Many frontline workers are angry about being exposed to Covid-19, some have lost their precarious contracts due to sickness from Covid, particularly in the care sector, and many speak of worry over continuing to work whilst experiencing the effects of Long Covid. At the moment many do not feel supported, prioritised or appreciated.”
Some frontline employees accused co-workers of flouting rules regarding mask wearing and physical distancing in the workplace, prompting calls for stronger guidance on what is expected in the occupational setting and the development of some clear whistleblowing policies.
Workers in health care expressed the need for meaningful long-term change in NHS funding to address issues of resource and capacity, while some frontline staff want stricter regulation of international travel, not only to prevent incoming variants but also to protect other countries that are less affected.
Dr Sumner said analysis of responses from frontline workers highlighted three immediate areas for policymakers to address: a need for strong and consistent leadership providing clear messages; more protection and emotional and financial support for those on the frontline; acknowledgment of inherent weaknesses in the current system and the need to learn lessons.
“To date, we still do not understand the long-term implications of the damage that Covid-19 can wreak on those who suffer it, and the shockwaves of this disease will be felt for a generation,” she said.
“Frontline workers across all sectors who have contracted Covid-19 have suffered in their line of duty, and sometimes this suffering may have been avoided through adequate preparation and support.”
Dr Kinsella added: “The present issues need immediate attention via the implementation of public health measures to prevent further occupational harm. Given the weight of evidence now available from the pandemic, it is possible for policymakers to switch from a reactive to a proactive stance when dealing with the challenges raised by Covid-19.
“Our frontline workers really are the most important experts when it comes to understanding what has been happening on the ground – their voices must be heard.”