The Government in England has set out its future plans for shielding for people at high risk of COVID-19.
Many – though not all – people with a muscle-wasting condition will be shielding at the moment. You may be wondering what this means for you and your family.
What does the guidance say?
The Government says it intends to relax guidance in stages, subject to clinical evidence.
From 6 July, people who are shielding will be able to meet five other people outdoors while maintaining strict social distancing. People who are shielding and living in a single-adult household will also be able to form a support bubble with one other household.
From 1 August, advice to shield will be paused and people will be advised to adopt strict social distancing, rather than full shielding measures. The Government says people can return to work, if it’s COVID-safe, and school, if eligible.
It has also confirmed food and medicine boxes facilitated by the National Shielding Service will stop on 1 August as individuals are advised they can visit shops and pharmacies.
People will remain on the shielding list in case they need to be advised to go back to shielding or need to be contacted.
This guidance applies only in England. You can read more about the guidance here, as well as what the guidance is for other nations.
What do we think?
We know that some people living with a muscle-wasting condition will welcome this development and will be looking forward to an easing of the shielding measured they are taking. But others will be concerned about the prospect of being forced to return to work even if they feel it is unsafe to do so.
We are concerned support from the National Shielding Service will come to an end on 1 August – but are pleased priority slots with supermarkets will continue.
Rob Burley, Director of Campaigns, Care and Support at Muscular Dystrophy UK, said:
Many people living with muscle-wasting conditions will welcome this development – but for some it will not be appropriate. We’ve heard from some people who say they do not feel ready to stop shielding. It’s essential they are not forced out of it because they can’t access food and medicines, or because their employer demands they return to work when they do not feel it is safe to do so.
It’s good to see the Government encouraging employers to make adjustments for people who remain vulnerable to COVID-19, and it’s essential they’re listened to. But we’re greatly concerned that support from the National Shielding Service will come to an end on 1 August. This has been a fantastic resource for people who are shielding, and helped many to access supplies and medicines. While the risk of being exposed to COVID-19 may be falling, the Government itself has stated today that the potential impact on many people living with a muscle-wasting condition remains severe.
Lockdown has been a stressful time for many people with muscle-wasting conditions. The Government must ensure that nobody who feels the need to continue to shield is left isolated and alone.
What will we be doing next?
We have already met with the Department of Health and Social Care, along with other charities, and have been assured we will be involved in the further development of shielding policy. We will continue to push for information so the people we support are kept fully informed.
We’re keen to hear from people with a muscle-wasting condition about their experiences of shielding and their concerns for the future so we can share them with policy officials. Get in touch here.
And, of course, we will continue to support people with muscle-wasting conditions who are currently shielding through our helpline and by regularly updating our guidance. We are thankful for the support of leading neuromuscular specialists who are helping us to provide accurate guidance specifically for people affected by muscle-wasting conditions.
What do you think?
People with muscle-wasting conditions and their families have been in touch to raise concerns about coming out of shielding. Some have said they will continue to shield, even if guidance changes, while others have welcomed the changes.
Bryan Gould, from Stourbridge, has OPMD and has been shielding. He said:
I’ve been shielding since the start of lockdown. I went out on to my drive to mark VE Day and after the guidance changed in May have taken one trip out in my wheelchair. I welcome the prospect of being able to see my sons and their partners in the coming weeks, and to start to reconnect with my friends. But I will want to hear what my consultant recommends first.
I’m nervous that these measures may not be suitable for everybody and I think it’s vital that people are supported to understand their own risk. I am very concerned about people with a muscle-wasting condition who may be forced to return to work even if they feel it isn’t safe, and about families having to make difficult decisions about sending children with muscle-wasting conditions back to school.
Our helpline team has also taken calls about things like returning to school or work.
Frequently asked questions
We are pulling together a list of frequently asked questions around shielding, which you’ll be able to find on our website.
In the meantime, you can find our latest coronavirus guidance here.