Prolonged work loss due to coronavirus costs employers billions

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A lung covid patient is being examined at the UMCG
NOS News
  • Sander Zurhake

    health care editor

In the Netherlands, more than 100,000 people have been sick at home for more than a year due to a covid infection. This cost employers in the Netherlands more than 8 billion euros per year, according to calculations by the NOS based on new research results from the UMC Groningen.

The impact of corona on employees has been studied by scientists for the first time in the Netherlands. The researchers presented their findings of the impact in the Northern Netherlands this afternoon.

Based on this, the NOS has calculated the extent of the loss of employees and the costs thereof at regional and national level. The calculations have been submitted to Xander Koolman, a health economist affiliated with VU University, for quality control.

The most precise estimate of the costs can be made for the region of the Northern Netherlands (Groningen, Friesland and Drenthe). Based on the UMCG research population, which consists of 10,000 employed people and is representative of this region, it appears that 1.28 percent of employees have been sick at home for more than a year after a covid infection.

High costs for companies

When this dropout rate is applied to the total working population of the Northern Netherlands, 908,000 people according to Statistics Netherlands, it means that 11,622 people have been out of work for more than a year because of corona.

The UMCG researchers have determined that the average productivity costs per day, per employee, amount to 312.72 euros. On an average working year, these costs rise to 71,300 euros per employee. This means a cost item of more than 828 million euros for the Northern Netherlands.

Size probably underestimated

“And we probably still underestimate the problem,” says research leader Sandra Brouwer, who is also a professor of Social Medicine. “We did not ask about complaints such as brain fog and hypersensitivity to stimuli from the start. Then you may miss people who drop out for these reasons.”

Even with this conservative estimate, the implications at a national level are significant. If the dropout rate of 1.28 percent is applied to the more than 9 million workers in the Netherlands, more than 100,000 people will be sick at home for more than a year. This costs employers in the Netherlands more than 8 billion euros per year.

Health economist Xander Koolman does see bright spots. Especially when he looks at the development of the absenteeism figures from one of the largest occupational health and safety services in the country, ArboNed. In 2020 and 2021, 2.5 and 2.2 percent of employees with a corona infection had been disabled for more than a year. In 2022, the long-term outage had already fallen to 0.5 percent.

“You see that there are people who do recover. And also that the influx of new people remains limited. This is in line with international trends. This is partly due to the build-up of immunity in the Netherlands due to the many infections and vaccinations. But probably also due to the new virus variants that lead less to lung covid.”

Research lung covid

Nevertheless, it is expected that a small group will remain permanently disabled after a corona infection. American scientists also suspect that people who have been vaccinated or who have had corona without problems can still get lung covid. The more often someone gets corona, the greater the chance that some complaints will become chronic.

Knowledge about the prevention and treatment of lung covid will therefore become important. But recently the future of research into lung covid in the Netherlands turned out to be uncertain due to inadequate funding. If all goes well, a research agenda for lung covid will be presented in May.

According to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, Minister Ernst Kuipers intends to make extra budget available for the establishment of a lung covid expertise network and a multi-year research programme. “Next month there will be more clarity about this.”

Chamber wants more research

The House of Representatives has also responded to the Groningen study. Wieke Paulusma of D66, herself a Long Covid patient, calls the importance of the research great. According to her, it offers hope and perspective to patients.

The House of Representatives previously adopted a motion from the Party for the Animals about mapping lung covid patients. Eva van Esch of the Party for the Animals: “This research increases the pressure on the ministry to form a better picture and that is first and foremost very important for all those lung covid patients.”

Fleur Agema of the PVV also calls for more research and extra attention for employees with lung covid in elderly care, where people worked without protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic.

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