Isolation diary: Identifying those to be shielded

It seems there are now 2.5 million people in the UK on the Government’s list of those who are extremely vulnerable, all of whom will have received the letter above. When you add in people like me who are not on the list but are living with and shielding someone else, that must mean that well over 3, if not 4, million of us are staying at home for the long term.

On Monday I wrote that at least 1.5 million people were being shielded. The first tranche of about 900,000 were sent letters from the Government soon after lockdown was imposed on 23rd March. They had been identified from NHS records because they were receiving chemotherapy or dialysis, were transplant recipients or had a limited number of other specific conditions.

Over the next couple of weeks, GPs were invited to identify others who had conditions that were not on that limited list but who would be seriously at risk if they were to catch the virus. This process added a further 600,000, hence the figure of 1.5 million.

But it seems it didn’t stop there, and GPs have been gradually adding others with complex conditions.

It has not been a simple process. For one thing we don’t yet have a unified medical records system in the UK. Consultants still send letters by post (or even by fax – remember that?) to fellow consultants or GPs. On top of that, people often have several medical conditions which impact on each other.

A GP explained some of the issues to The Guardian the other day:

Identifying people for the list requires clinical judgment, not just a sweep of patient records. So GPs have had to look at the medical history of all their patients and make these judgments. Some people have come off the list as a result of that process too.

The number of people on the list will continue to change as more people are diagnosed with certain illnesses and also as our understanding of the risk factors for Covid become clearer.

The consequences for everyone on the list are quite far-reaching. They will have to be shielded – the most extreme form of self-isolation – until the end of June at the earliest. The Government’s COVID-19 recovery strategy, that was published on Monday said:

The guidance on shielding and vulnerability will be kept under review as the UK moves through the phases of the Government’s strategy. It is likely that the Government will continue to advise people who are clinically extremely vulnerable to shield beyond June. Whilst shielding is important to protect individuals from the risk of COVID-19 infection, the Government recognises that it is challenging for people’s wider wellbeing. The Government will review carefully the effect on shielded individuals, the services they have had, and what next steps are appropriate.

However long it lasts, people on the list will have to work out whether to isolate themselves from the people they live with or whether to bring them into full shielding with them. They will have to work out how to get food and other supplies. And they will have to do all this while managing quite serious medical conditions.

Which? has provided some very helpful advice: How can coronavirus-vulnerable households get food deliveries? You don’t have to be a subscriber to read the article. As I’ve mentioned several times getting on priority delivery lists has not been straightforward, and must be a nightmare for someone who doesn’t use a computer much and is nervous of online shopping.

All this suggests that help is going to be needed by many people from friends, volunteers, neighbours, local councils and the wider community for many weeks to come.




Please note

We have been in full self-isolation since 16th March to protect my husband whose immune system is compromised.

If you are in self-isolation then join the Lib Dems in self-isolation Facebook group.

You can find my previous Isolation diaries here.


* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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