Charities fear for forgotten thousands remaining indoors after shielding paused

New survey data has found that thousands of people living with a lung condition will continue to hide away even when shielding is officially paused in England, leading to fears of a forgotten underclass of vulnerable people.

The survey from Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation of nearly 4,000 people shielding in England, found that 42% plan to continue shielding after the 1 August and 40% are undecided.

When asked how long they will continue to shield for, two thirds said they will need to be happy the risk of catching coronavirus is low, with 21% saying they will wait until there is a vaccine.

The majority also feel that shielding and lockdown has been lifted too soon with 78% saying they think the government in England has been too quick to lift shielding restrictions. And four in five feel very anxious about shielding lifting.

For some shielders who plan to pause shielding in line with national guidance, it will be their first time outside of the house for months as 21% have not left their home during shielding. A further 10% had only left the house once in a month. 

Others have found it impossible to maintain shielding with 35% of people having stopped already.

Nearly half of people who had already stopped shielding said the reasons they had to stop were out of their hands and they did not choose to, for example because of work commitments. And 39% noted they’d stopped shielding because the burden of shielding was proving too high.

The leading respiratory charities have heard first-hand from thousands of people whose lives have been turned upside down by shielding. For many it’s been extremely isolating and difficult and the charities fear those who want to remain shielding are at risk of being forgotten.

Pausing shielding also means many very vulnerable people will be returning to normal day-to-day life and the charities are urging the public and those shielding to continue to follow stringent social distancing. Not all health conditions are visible so its vital everyone takes care to protect the health of those around them.

Emma Rubach, Head of Health Advice at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation said: “We know that shielding has taken a huge toll on people’s lives and for many there will be a massive adjustment once shielding has been paused. To go from staying at home for months to returning to life as normal, is a huge shift. We are also concerned about the many people who feel they have to remain at home indefinitely, vulnerable people who will be cut off from others and support, and risk being forgotten.”

As they have throughout the pandemic, the charities will continue to offer vital expert advice and support to people with lung conditions facing difficult choices about how to minimise their risk of coronavirus. 

Emma added: “Shielding is very much a personal choice, and whatever people decide – we can help. 

“Understanding the local risk of catching Covid-19 may help you feel more in control about whether you go out and what you choose to do. Shielding is a heavy burden and if infection rates in your local area remain low, it could be a good time to venture outside a little more and see friends and family if you’re comfortable doing so.

“If you feel anxious or depressed, your GP can help you with mental health support. It’s a difficult time for anyone who has been shielding and there’s no shame in seeking help. It’s important to get you back on the right track sooner rather than later and there are a range of things your GP can do to help.

“It’s vital that everyone continues to follow stringent social distancing, wash your hands often and use a face covering if you can when social distancing is difficult. It’s also important the general public are aware that many people will be heading out for the first time in months. We all have a part to play in protecting the most vulnerable in our society, so we’d urge everyone to follow guidelines and be considerate to those who are leaving their homes for the first time in months.”

-ENDS-

Notes to editor:

Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation conducted an online survey between 10th July and 15th July. It gained 7085 responses in England. This included 3852 who were shielding in England. The survey was promoted via email to our supporters, and on our social media channels.

For more information or for interview requests, please contact the press team on 0207 786 4949 or mediaoffice@asthma.org.uk.