Supporting vulnerable patients during the coronavirus pandemic

The government and NHS have been clear since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic that certain groups of people are at an increased risk of complications. As these vulnerable people are more likely to be severely ill from COVID-19, we’re going to explain more about who these groups of people are, how they can limit the risk to themselves and how the rest of us can help to keep them safe and protected.

Who is classed as vulnerable?

If you are at an increased risk of severe illness from a coronavirus infection you are classed as vulnerable. This includes people:

  • aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
  • under 70 with an underlying health condition (e.g. anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds)
  • who are pregnant

What’s the difference between vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people?

According to the latest government advice, those classed as ‘extremely vulnerable’ have a very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus and should take stricter isolation measures and not leave their home. The full list can be found here but people in this category include those who are likely to be:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired

Limiting exposure for those who are vulnerable

If you are a vulnerable person

If you’re classed an extremely vulnerable person that has a medical condition and are self-isolating for your own safety, you can get support here. If you’re not sure whether your medical condition makes you extremely vulnerable, you should still register to be on the safe side. The government has set up the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, which can help you get essential deliveries such as food to your home.

If you need help with care but you’re not sure who to contact or if you do not have family or friends who can help you, you can contact your local council who should be able to help you.

As an extremely vulnerable person you should receive a letter on behalf of the government by Sunday 29th March 2020 or be contacted by your GP. The government strongly advises that you stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks from the day you receive your letter. Please note that this period of time could change. Find out more here.

NHS Digital have also introduced a text system for these extremely vulnerable patients, which was sent to over 1 million people on the 23rd March, with information about why they need to self-isolate, guides on how to access care, and support and wellbeing advice while isolating.

If you think you have developed symptoms of coronavirus, such as a new continuous cough or fever, seek medical advice using the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

If you’re a carer or family member for someone vulnerable

If you care for vulnerable patients, you should aim for a minimal contact plan to reduce the risk of infection and take all the necessary precautions – such as hand washing when entering different patients’ properties.

Social visitors such as friends and family should not visit vulnerable people during this time, unless you are providing essential care – such as washing, dressing or preparing meals.

If you just want to help those who are vulnerable

The Prime Minister spoke about the NHS plea for volunteers to support vulnerable patients during this pandemic. So far over 400,000 people have volunteered to help. These NHS Volunteer Responders will support people by:

  • Community Response – involving collecting shopping, medication or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and delivering these supplies to their home.
  • Patient Transport – supporting the NHS by providing transport to patients who are medically fit for discharge and ensuring that they are settled safely back into their home.
  • NHS Transport – transporting equipment, supplies and/or medication between NHS services and sites.
  • Check-in and Chat – providing short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness as a consequence of self-isolation.

If you think you could support local vulnerable people in one of these roles then find out more here.

Please continue to follow NHS guidance, stay at home, protect the NHS, and save lives.

Phil Day By Phil Day Superintendent Pharmacist Published 27/03/2020