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Over three quarters of a million Disabled people left out of shielding help

22 April 2021

The government is still not sure if over three quarters of a million people who should have been shielding and offered practical support at the start of the pandemic were overlooked.

A Parliamentary committee report said that poor data meant it took too long to identify those in greatest need of shielding help and advice. 800,000 people may have been missed off the list, with 375,000 of those not contactable due to gaps or errors in their contact details on their NHS records.

After failing to make contact with the 800,000 clinically extremely vulnerable people, it took a month for a new central contact centre, set up at a cost of £18.4 million, to pass details to local authorities.

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts said the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government still has no idea whether these people ended up being contacted by their local authorities.

The way in which GPs identified vulnerable people varied hugely across different areas of the country, although it was recognised that it was GP action that led to the eventual increase of the list of clinically extremely vulnerable people from 1.3 million to 2.2 million people.

People with visual impairment who could not socially distance, and people aged over 70, were missed off the list entirely, leading to them being unable to access food.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the Committee, said: “The shielding response in the Covid pandemic has particularly exposed the high human cost of the lack of planning for shielding in pandemic-planning scenarios. It also highlights the perennial issue of poor data and joined-up policy systems…

“People were instructed to isolate, to protect themselves and others – but the cost of this protection was reduced access to living essentials like food, and an untold toll on the mental health and wellbeing of the already most vulnerable.”

The government’s shielding support plan budget in March 2020 was just £308 million to support clinically extremely vulnerable people with access to food, basic care and medicine.

DR UK’s Head of Policy Fazilet Hadi said: “We have been banging this drum since the start of the pandemic. We welcome the Committee shining a spotlight on these issues and drawing the same conclusions as leading Disability charities who were crying out about these issues at the start of the crisis. This is further proof that Disabled people were sidelined and put at greater risk despite the clear clinical evidence at the time that Disabled people were making up the bulk of those dying and suffering serious long term health effects from Covid. The anger we feel as a demographic is entirely justified and borne out in this report, which should form part of an urgent Inquiry into how the pandemic was handled. We continue to push for this to ensure lessons can be learned and agile response systems can be put in place to prevent loss of life.”

The government has called the report’s findings “disappointing and misjudged” and said: “Many people chose not to take up the offer of government support as they felt they didn’t need it.”