The UK’s leading respiratory charity is calling for an urgent review of the shielding rules for the forgotten 500,000 extremely vulnerable people with lung conditions, as new survey figures show the immense toll shielding is taking.
Amid intense confusion around shielding with texts and letters being sent taking people off the shielding lists, the Government in England has confirmed the shielding rules will continue, despite other restrictions being lifted.
A recent survey conducted by Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation has shown that more than half (53%) of vulnerable people with lung conditions in England have not been able to follow shielding guidelines fully. Of these people, more than a third have been going outside for walks or exercise.
One in five people who are currently shielding are concerned that they will not be able to shield beyond 12 weeks at all, or they will need more support to do so. Of these people, two-thirds cited the toll to their mental health and wellbeing as the reason for this.
More than three quarters (76%) of people shielding reported feeling anxious about COVID-19, with many respondents reporting that shielding had led to a decline in their mental health.
“I’m mentally struggling. I miss my routine, work and adult company. I’m feeling low and tearful,” said one respondent.
Another said: “It is really hard. I have stayed home as much as possible, only leaving home when my mental health deteriorates to the point where I have to ‘escape’. I'm not sure how much longer I can do this.”
Mother-of-two Samantha Bruce, from Rotherham, has severe asthma. She was told to shield by her GP in March and had been receiving food parcels until last week when she received a text message out of the blue telling her that she was no longer required to shield.
Samantha said: “Shielding has been extremely challenging for myself and my family. I have two children under the age of four and I am my disabled husband’s main carer. I have to take my children out for a walk every day because my husband cannot take them out alone and they need to get some fresh air. I suffer with my mental health and to be told that you cannot support your family in the way that you have been doing is a huge change.
“To then get a text that I no longer needed to shield and to lose access to food parcels was devastating. Although it is difficult, I will continue to shield because I can’t risk getting coronavirus and be unable to look after my family. The government is talking about lifting lockdown, but vulnerable people like myself have just been forgotten about.”
Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation are now calling for a new approach for people to be able protect themselves well. There needs to be an easing of current shielding rules so that people are not told abruptly to stop and lose their entitlement to support such as food packages and employment furlough.
Alison Cook, Director of External Affairs at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: “At first shielding was about protecting vulnerable people as well as making sure that the NHS wasn’t overwhelmed, now it’s different and the main driver must be tailoring advice for individual people with respiratory conditions.
“What we would like to see is people being able to assess their personal risk with the support of their GP, consultant or specialist nurse and deciding what it is safe for them to do and what they feel comfortable with, rather than the current blanket approach.”