The government has released shielding guidance for people classed as clinically extremely vulnerable, a day after announcing a new, three-tiered system of Covid-19 alert levels in England.
MDUK is extremely concerned by the lack of clarity and the seeming lack of support for people with muscle-wasting conditions if they are advised to shield again.
The new alert levels are set at medium (tier one), high (tier two) and very high (tier three).
What does the guidance say?
- Today’s guidance says that no one in a tier one or two area is advised to shield.
- If an area is designated as tier three, people who are clinically extremely vulnerable are advised to stay at home as much as possible.
- However, the guidance states that clinically extremely vulnerable people “may” also be contacted through a letter from the Government to be told they should return to shielding.
We are concerned that this approach could lead to a high level of confusion; we know that, for people with muscle-wasting conditions, there have been inconsistencies and uncertainty over whether they are in the clinically extremely vulnerable category.
Some have received multiple confirmations that they are part of this category while others have had to pursue such confirmation.
Urgent clarity is needed on what would trigger clinically extremely vulnerable people in a tier three area being advised to shield.
People living with a muscle-wasting condition need to have confidence that their risk from Covid-19 has been accurately recognised and recorded.
What about support?
MDUK is also concerned by the seeming lack of support that will be available to people advised to shield.
The guidance states that in the event this happens, “further support will be made available from your local authority and community pharmacies to help protect you during this period of heightened risk”.
This suggests the level of support available may depend on where you live.
Furthermore, if you are advised to shield and you cannot work from home, the guidance states that “you may be eligible for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or Employment Support Allowance (ESA)”.
This is not an adequate level of support.
We are also concerned that if clinically extremely vulnerable children are advised to shield, they are “advised not to attend school”. Family support is needed as this may create challenges around childcare and supporting a child’s education.
What do we think?
Today we have issued a statement in partnership with a number of other charities:
“The Prime Minister told us yesterday that COVID-19 is once again “spreading among the elderly and vulnerable”.
Yet today, the new shielding guidance doesn’t amount to a plan to protect the millions of people particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Instead, it simply confirms there isn’t one.
“In most areas of the country people living with long-term or life-threatening health conditions like multiple sclerosis, cancer and diabetes are expected to protect themselves.
“In the absence of much of the practical support that was in place in the first wave, vulnerable people who have fewer savings, fewer family, or are not able to work from home have no choice but to simply carry on and risk their health.
“Where cases are so high that people who can’t do their job at home would be advised to avoid work, the Government’s only response to the massive financial concerns this would raise is that they “may” be eligible for some benefits.
“Vulnerable people deserve to know they WILL be supported through this crisis.”
The Prime Minister’s statement on the three tier system can be read in full here.
How can we help?
Our Covid-19 guidance here helps explain which people with muscle-wasting conditions might be classed as clinically extremely vulnerable. We will continue to fight for greater clarity and better support.
Our helpline remains open for people looking for support and advice. We are able to take calls Monday-Friday, 10am-2pm.
Alternatively you can email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.