Long-COVID: do we really believe in it?, ex-PM Johnson asked aide

Nurses with long-COVID condemn comments casting doubt on their condition made by Boris Johnson while he was prime minister, and now seen by UK COVID-19 Inquiry

Nurses with long-COVID condemn comments casting doubt on their condition made by Boris Johnson while he was prime minister, and now seen by UK COVID-19 Inquiry

WhatsApp messages seen by the UK COVID-19 Inquiry

Nurses who lost their jobs to long-COVID have called dismissive comments about it by former prime minister Boris Johnson ‘soul-destroying’.

Evidence to the COVID-19 public inquiry revealed he called the condition ‘b*******s’, while in Number 10.

A document from October 2020 described symptoms of the condition on which Mr Johnson had handwritten the obscenity along with the words ‘this is gulf war syndrome’.

He repeated the view in a WhatsApp message to government aides four months later – and now seen by the inquiry – when he asked: ‘Do we really believe in long covid? why can’t we hedge it more? I bet it is complete gulf war syndrome stuff.’

The timing of the comments may be of interest to the inquiry – coming just a week after NHS England published a five-point plan to tackle long-COVID.

Former audit and surveillance nurse Caroline MacDonald accused Mr Johnson of ‘appalling gaslighting’ but added she was unsurprised by his comments.

She told Nursing Standard: ‘After all, it is his government who failed to try and reduce the spread of COVID-19 earlier, as well as provide proper protection to those on the front lines of caring and other key worker positions.

Ms MacDonald developed COVID-19 in March 2020 while working for NHS Scotland and long-COVID has recently forced her to give up her job for good. The condition has taken a financial toll too and she recently lost her house.

She said Mr Johnson’s comments shed light on the ‘noxious policies of gaslighting’ that led to long-COVID being considered by many to be a psychological syndrome.

‘It’s an insult to all of us who now have had our lives, health and careers ruined,’ she said.

Nurse and long-COVID campaigner Rachel Hext contracted the virus in October 2020 while working on a ward with COVID-positive patients in Devon. She been unable to work since due to long-term symptoms including fatigue, blurred vision and dysautonomia.

Ms Hext said: ‘To actually have it in black and white that our contribution and subsequent disablement is so disbelieved, despite the very real evidence of is existence, is nothing short of soul-destroying.

‘Most of us in the long-COVID community are beyond angry now. We were angry at the lack of PPE (personal protective equipment), the lack of preparation and the lack of precautions that could have been taken to protect us,’ she told Nursing Standard.

‘Boris Johnson clearly doesn’t respect the medical and nursing staff who cared for him or the thousands of people who died of COVID.’

Nurses who are living with the devastating effects of long-COVID want recognition and compensation for what they have lost – for many like Ms MacDonald, this means their jobs and homes.

‘The benefits system for disabled people isn’t fit for purpose and the very same people who saved lives in the pandemic are now facing poverty. That is Boris Johnson’s legacy,’ Ms Hext added.

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