Coronavirus: What does shielding mean?

In July, Government advice for those shielding in England will change. We look at what these changes mean for you if you have been told to shield.
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Last updated 06 July 2020

Changes to shielding advice

From 6 July 2020 

  • You may, if you wish, meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing i.e. stay two metres apart;   
  • You no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household;  
  • In line with the wider guidance for single adult households (either an adult living alone or only with dependent children under 18) in the general population you can also form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other's homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance.  

All other advice around shielding remains the same and will remain unchanged until the end of July.  

From 1 August 2020 

The Government’s advice will be that you no longer need to shield. Instead the advice will be to adopt strict social distancing. This means that you should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household or support bubble.  

It also means: 

  • You can go to work, if you cannot work from home, as long as the business is COVID-safe;  
  • Children who are clinically extremely vulnerable can return to their education settings if they are eligible and in line with their peers. Where possible children should practise frequent hand washing and social distancing;  
  • You can go outside to buy food, to places of worship and for exercise but you should maintain strict social distancing; and  
  • You should remain cautious as you are still at risk of severe illness if you catch Coronavirus, so the advice is to stay at home where possible and, if you do go out, follow strict social distancing.

Go to the government's advice on shielding

Tell us about your experience of care while shielding

Has your health and/ or social care been disrupted by COVID-19 while shielding? Whether it’s good or bad, we want to hear from you.

It only takes five minutes and your feedback can help NHS and social care services understand the steps they can take to improve care for you and your loved ones.

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Will there be changes to the support I receive? 

The food and medicine boxes facilitated by the National Shielding Service will stop as of 1 August, with everyone now being advised that they can visit shops and pharmacies.  

Other forms of support – such as priority supermarket delivery slots and the NHS Volunteers Scheme, amongst a range of local volunteer schemes – will continue. If you are concerned about the support available to you after 1 August, you should contact your local authority

Am I still classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable? 

Yes. The categorisation of ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ will remain in place and people in this group should continue to follow their specific guidance specific, available here

You should have been written to about these changes. If you haven’t been contacted, please contact your GP. 

Will I be told to shield again? 

After 1 August the Government will continue to maintain the Shielded Patient List. The Government will monitor the virus continuously over coming months and if it spreads too much, you may be advised to shield again. 

Shielding guidance has been and continues to be advisory. 

Why is the advice changing? 

All Government decisions on shielding advice are led by the latest scientific evidence.  

The latest evidence shows that the chance of encountering Coronavirus in the community has continued to decline. Four weeks ago, around one person in 500 had the virus. Last week it was even lower with less than one in 1,700 people having the virus.  

As a result, the Government believes that advice to people that are shielding can be relaxed.

Are you concerned about the changes in guidance? Talk to your local Healthwatch. 

Your local Healthwatch can help you to understand the guidance and what it means for you and the support you receive. Contact your nearest one online, by social media, or by phone.  

Find your local Healthwatch

Frequently asked questions

The following Q&A, based on information provided by the Government, aims to help you get some of the answers you need, to know about what shielding means in practice.

What does ‘shielding’ mean? 

Shielding is the word used to describe how to protect those at highest risk of severe illness if they catch coronavirus. You can shield yourself following the Government guidance, and shield others by minimising all interaction between yourself and those who are most at risk.

Who has been contacted about shielding?

The NHS has been writing to people considered to be at highest clinical risk from coronavirus (COVID-19) asking them to ‘shield’.

As we move into the next phase of COVID-19, a number of patients are being identified by clinicians as no longer needing to be on the clinically extremely vulnerable list. The decision to remove a patient from the list following a list should always be a clinical decision. Clinicians have been advised to discuss these decisions with their patients and mark their decision on the IT system.

If you have received a text and are unsure of what it means for you, you are advised to contact your clinician to discuss.

How long do I shield myself for?

The Government is currently advising people to shield until 31 July 2020 and is regularly monitoring this position.

How do I get food and medication if I'm shielding? 

Ask family, friends and neighbours to support you and use online services. The Government has also set up a dedicated website and helpline where you can go for wider support.

Please register now, using your NHS number, if you have received the letter so that the Government can start putting in place people to help: 

0800 028 8327 

This service can help answer any questions you may have, such as: 

  • How do I get food shopping? 

  • How do I buy medicine? 

  • How do I pick up prescriptions?

The last boxes of basic supplies will be sent out by 31 July 2020. So that there is time to get the boxes to people, registrations will close on 17 July.

I haven’t been contacted but I think I am in the high-risk group – what should I do?

If you have not received a letter or been contacted by your GP or hospital consultant, but feel you are within the high-risk category, you should contact your GP practice or hospital team. If you are unsure, check the list on the Gov.uk website to see if you are in the most at risk/ extremely vulnerable group. 

My main carer is unwell – what do I do?

Speak to your carers about back-up plans for your care in case your main carer is unwell or needs to self-isolate.

You should have an alternative list of people who can help you with your care if your main carer becomes unwell. You can also contact your local council, or local Healthwatch, for advice on how to access care.

NHS Volunteer responder scheme

If you are already being supported by the NHS Volunteer Responders, and would like some more information, please click here.

If you are currently not supported and need some help with shopping, a prescription collection or a friendly chat then NHS Volunteer Responders are ready to help.

Find out more

I'm worried that shielding is going to affect my mental health - what do I do?

Try to stay in touch with those around you over the phone, by post or online. Let people know how you would like to stay in touch and build that into your routine. This is important in looking after your mental wellbeing and you may find it helpful to talk to them about how you are feeling if you want to.

Remember, it is okay to share your concerns with others you trust and in doing so you may end up providing support to them too. Or you might want to try an NHS recommended helpline.

You can refer yourself to NHS Volunteer Responders for a phone call from an NHS Volunteer, by calling 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm). We know that many people in the shielding group will already have good support networks among family, friends and neighbours, but if you don’t, the volunteers can help with a range of support, from transport to and from hospital appointments to ‘check in and chat’ – a simple phone call from a volunteer to check that you are doing ok.

If you have trouble with the referral process, contact your local Healthwatch.

We've also put together some advice on how to look after your mental health during this time. 

Read more

Got another question?

To find more detailed answers to these and other questions, read the Government guidance on shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable from COVID-19.

Find out more

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