Charities have warned people are being ‘cast adrift’ and ‘forgotten by the government’ after the major announcement was slipped online after 7pm last night
The entire Covid shielding programme has been “closed” for good in an announcement slipped out at night during a Cabinet reshuffle.
Clinically extremely vulnerable people will “not be advised to shield again” in future despite fears of a huge winter wave, said the statement uploaded to the government website after 7pm on Wednesday.
Furious charities today raised fears disabled and immunosuppressed people will be “cast adrift” – while others will feel “yet again forgotten by the government”.
Some 3.8million vulnerable people were advised to shield during England’s third lockdown, going outside only for exercise or health appointments.
That guidance was paused on April 1, and on July 19 people were told they could follow the same rules as the rest of the population.
But the ‘Shielded Patient List’ was retained for future use and ex-shielders were given special tips, such as only meeting vaccinated people.
Last night, however, the government announced there will no longer be “centralised guidance” for clinically extremely vulnerable people.
Ex-shielders will receive a letter from the government informing them of the decision “in the coming days”.
The statement from the Department for Health and Social care said: “The government will continue to assess the situation and the risks posed by COVID-19 and, based on clinical advice, will respond accordingly to keep the most vulnerable safe.
“Individuals should consider advice from their health professional on whether additional precautions are right for them.
“This will move the country towards the situation pre-COVID-19, where people managed their own conditions with their health professionals, who know the needs of their individual patients best.”
It added shielding was “the right decision at the time” when little was known about the virus – but “was extremely restrictive and for some, had a significant impact on people’s lives and their mental and physical wellbeing.”
But Fredi Cavander-Attwood of the MS Society said: “With Covid cases expected to rise in the coming months, the Government’s decision to end the shielding programme now will leave many vulnerable people – including some with MS – feeling cast adrift.
“The programme helped vulnerable people access vital and timely support during the height of the pandemic, and removing it could make it more difficult to get help in event of another peak.
“The Government argue that most vulnerable people are now protected by vaccines and those that aren’t should consider personalised advice from their healthcare professional.
“But with such massive pressure on the NHS, we worry it is unrealistic for everyone to access the tailored clinical advice they need. Scrapping the shielding list also raises the question of how the Government will contact and protect vulnerable people quickly if needed in the future.”
James Taylor of disability equality charity Scope said: “To formally end the support offered by shielding just as we’re approaching winter, with the strong likelihood that Covid cases will surge, will make some disabled people feel, yet again, forgotten by the government.
“While it’s positive news that clinically extremely vulnerable people are being prioritised for booster vaccines, it’s vital that support remains in place for those who can’t get the vaccine or for whom it is less effective.
“We need reassurance that disabled people will be given the information and support they need to stay safe this winter.”
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said: “We are extremely disappointed that the shielded patient list is ending with no clear plans to provide support for immunocompromised patients.
“This news will be a blow to blood cancer patients who are vulnerable to Covid-19 because the vaccines are less likely to protect them.
“As Covid-19 transmissions remain high, Anthony Nolan is urging the government to fund more vital research into the vaccines, provide clear advice and support, and appoint a government lead for people who are immunocompromised.
“The government cannot leave these patients behind as society continues to open up.”