More people with underlying medical conditions added to high-risk group that require strict ‘shielding’
More people with medical conditions – making them particularly vulnerable to coronavirus – are being added to the Government’s shielding programme, the chief medical officer for England has said.
Prof Chris Whitty said medical specialists and GPs had helped identify additional patients who were not initially included in the high-risk group, who need special protection amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Speaking at the daily Downing Street press conference on Tuesday, Prof Whitty said health authorities had already identified around 1.5 million people who need to have the “absolute minimum” contact with others.
Last month, the Government said people in high-risk categories should exercise shielding measures by staying at home at all times and avoiding any face-to-face contact for at least 12 weeks.
Prof Whitty said a first wave of letters informing people they needed to implement measures had been sent, with a second wave due to go out this week.
He said the “great majority” of people at high risk had been identified centrally through medical records.
This focus on clinically vulnerable people, including children, covers those with certain conditions, such as severe asthma, specific cancers, solid organ transplant recipients and pregnant women with significant heart disease.
But Prof Whitty added: “There are additional people who have been identified either by specialist medical groups or, in some cases, by GPs, who know that someone has got a group of conditions or a particular condition that isn’t on the list but makes them particularly vulnerable… so some people have been added to the list as a result of that.”
Prof Whitty did not clarify what medical conditions meant these extra people qualified for the shielding programme.
He also explained that some being urged to observe the shielding measures would choose not to do so.
Prof Whitty said: “There have been some people who will have taken a decision in discussion with their GP, that they simply do not wish to be part of this, that the idea of being, for many weeks, completely cut off, at least physically from society, except for the absolute basic necessities… that this is not something they wish to do.”
He added: “And this particularly, for example, might apply to people who have had a terminal diagnosis and are in palliative care and are on the last stages, where they would just make a rational life decision, that was not what they wished to do.”
Prof Whitty said changes to the shielding programme, in terms of people being added or not wishing to take part, was something that was always “expected to happen”.
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said it would be publishing updated shielding guidance later this week.
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