Shielding - what does it mean? Helping you to answer the public's questions

From 23 March 2020, the Government is contacting around 1.5 million NHS patients by letter, with guidance and information on ‘shielding’. Here's some information to help you answer people's questions.
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Last updated 25/03/20

People that have been identified from their medical records as being at highest risk of severe illness resulting in hospitalisation if they catch coronavirus (COVID-19) have been contacted by the Government to start 'shielding' themselves. 

The letter strongly advises people to rigorously follow the guidance, which includes staying at home at all times for at least 12 weeks.  

The following Q&A, based on information provided by Government, aims to help Healthwatch services respond to questions from the public.

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

What am I being asked to do - how do I shield myself? 

People most at risk are being strongly advised by Government to stay at home at all times, for at least 12 weeks. Any face-to-face contact should be avoided in this time. This will reduce your chance of becoming ill. 

Read Public Health England's guidance on shielding and protecting extremely vulnerable persons from covid-19.

Who might receive a letter on shielding? 

People who have been identified as being at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) because of an underlying health condition.

Click here for a list of the most at-risk people. 

Why have I received a letter on shielding? 

Medical records have been used to identify people at highest risk of coronavirus. Your letter will be from your GP or hospital specialist providing advice on how you, your family, and carers, can best protect themselves against the virus.

For further information and guidance on shielding and protecting people who have been defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19, please visit the Government advice page. 

What information does the letter contain? 

The letter provides:

  • advice on what the NHS is doing to support the most vulnerable through this period
  • information about accessing health and social care during this time
  • the extra support available for these patients, their families and carers.

The letter should reassure you about how your ongoing healthcare needs will be met during this time, answering any questions, and provide information on how to access support. 

I have received a letter – what should I do next? 

Register with the dedicated Government website and/ or helpline to access wider support.

0800 028 8327 

Do I need to tell anyone that I have received the letter? 

  • Your GP and hospital specialists have been notified which of their patients have received a letter and have been asked to review the ongoing care arrangements for these patients. 
  • You are encouraged to share the contents of your letter with family and friends who can help support your care. They can help to understand the letter and follow the guidance within it. Easy read and plain English versions of the letter will be available soon.

I received a text message – is this spam? 

Text messages will be sent out during the week of 23 March, with the same advice and signposting to sources of support. 

I’m worried about shielding / I don’t understand / I need help: Where can I go to ask questions? 

The Government has set up a dedicated website and helpline where people can go for wider support. Please register now if you have received the letter: 

0800 028 8327 

This service can help answer any questions you may have, such as: 

  • How do I get food shopping? 

  • How do I buy medicine? 

  • How do I pick up prescriptions?  

This will help the Government understand who is in need of a community support system to help you follow the advice in the letter you've received.

I haven’t received a letter, but I think I am in the high-risk group – what should I do? 

Try not to worry, the letters will arrive during the week of the 23 March. GPs and specialists have also been asked to pass on the information to any patients they think should be included but have not be flagged on their systems.  If you have not received a letter by 30 March, but feel you are within the high-risk category, you should contact your GP or hospital team. If you are unsure, check the list below to see if you are in the most at risk/ extremely vulnerable group. 

Who is in the most at risk / extremely vulnerable group? 

1. Solid organ transplant recipients 

2. People with specific cancers:  

  • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer 

  • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment 

  • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer 

  • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors 

  • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs 

3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD. 

4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell). 

5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection. 

6. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

Got another question?

To find more detailed answers to these and other questions, read the Government guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

Find out more

What are people telling you about their experiences of COVID-19?

If you hear that people in your area have concerns about coronavirus, health and care services, or new legislation please let us know so that we can raise this with stakeholders. 

You can do this and find out the latest information on our Workplace group.

Workplace is our online community for Healthwatch staff to network and work with one another. Remember, if you haven't got a Workplace account please don't try to set one up, contact hub@healthwatch.co.uk.

Go to Workplace