Phil Day By Superintendent Pharmacist Published:

In order to help tackle the spread of coronavirus, England has been in a state of lockdown since 23rd March. This has been a challenging period for all of us, especially those patients who are classified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19. After nearly 4 months, the rules and guidance around shielding are set to change from 1st August.

What does ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ mean?

Clinically extremely vulnerable patients are those who are at high risk of serious illness if they were to contract the virus and have been advised to shield themselves by staying at home as much as possible.

This includes patients with certain types of cancer, those undergoing chemotherapy, and those with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy. It also includes patients with cystic fibrosis, severe asthma, and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). To read the full list of patients who need to shield, visit the NHS website.

If you’re one of these patients, you should have received a letter about shielding or been contacted by your GP or hospital clinician. 

What is shielding?

‘Shielding’ is the practice of protecting the extremely vulnerable, by limiting their chances of coming into contact with the coronavirus. At the start of lockdown, the extremely vulnerable were strongly advised to stay at home and avoid all face-to-face contact.

Essential support from a carer or healthcare professional could still be received, but with strict guidelines to follow, to minimise the risk of infection. 

What are the current rules for patients who are shielding?

From 6th July, the guidelines for shielding patients were significantly relaxed.

  • You are no longer required to socially distance from the people you live with.
  • You’re allowed to meet up to 6 people from other households in a group outdoors, but social distancing should be maintained.
  • A “support bubble” can be formed with 1 other household, as long as that household only contains a single adult. Time can be spent in each other’s homes and overnight without social distancing. 
  • The Government’s support of a food box, care and/or medicine is still available until 31st July. Learn more about this support.
  • As the risk for most children and young people looks to be very low, they’ll only have to shield until 31st July. Health services should be in touch before the start of the new school term.

Learn more from the Government’s webpage on ‘guidance on shielding and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable from COVID-19’.

What’s changing from 1st August?

From 1st August, the Government will pause shielding unless cases of coronavirus begin to spike in local communities. As such, you will no longer be advised to shield and the Government’s additional support for the clinically extremely vulnerable will end.  

This means that patients who had previously been shielding will now be able to go to work as long as safety precautions have been taken. You can also go shopping and visit places of worship, making sure to keep 2 metres away where possible. Social distancing and hand washing will still need to be practised.    

The Government has said this guidance will remain under constant review and could change if infections rise, at which point local lockdown measures could be introduced which might change the guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable patients.  

Managing prescriptions online

Although the restrictions are relaxing, as a vulnerable patient you may still wish to minimise face-to-face contact by using online services.

Our NHS repeat prescription service enables patients and carers to manage NHS repeat prescriptions for themselves or someone they care for, online or by using the Pharmacy2U app. We are then able to deliver essential medication directly to the patient’s door, or to their carer to take to them. If you know someone who could benefit from this service, let them know here.