Lack of clear lockdown plans for vulnerable people is leaving millions at risk

29 May 2020
Silhouette of a lady in a window with some flowers.

We are joining a group of charities today to warn that millions of vulnerable and extremely vulnerable people, including many with arthritis and related conditions, are getting mixed and confused messages about the easing of shielding measures potentially putting their health and safety at serious risk.

Charities including Macmillan Cancer Support; British Lung Foundation and Asthma UK; MS Society; National Voices; Versus Arthritis; Kidney Care UK and Cystic Fibrosis Trust are publishing an open letter today calling for UK Governments to publish clear, consistent advice on ‘shielding’ measures for ‘extremely vulnerable’ people to ensure they protect themselves and can access support as lockdown eases.

We are also calling for clear guidance for the wider group of vulnerable people who have not been asked to ‘shield’ but will be at greater risk as lockdown is lifted and they make decisions on whether they and members of their household leave home, go to work or school.

The UK government has set out a detailed national roadmap this month for other areas of society such as schools, businesses and public spaces, which the Prime Minister updated yesterday (28 May) with a further easing of lockdown. But those in the clinically ‘extremely vulnerable’ cohort who had been advised to shield themselves in March have simply been told to ‘continue to do so’.

As millions face months more of total lockdown because of their extreme vulnerability, only a top line commitment has been made to look at how to ‘better support’ them ‘soon’.

Tracey Loftis, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Versus Arthritis, says: “Many people with arthritis who are having to shield do so because their medication makes them vulnerable to Covid-19.

“Government advice needs to ensure that it directly addresses the concerns of those at risk and shielding, as confused messaging is causing uncertainty and anxiety.

“People being advised to shield should be invited to input into future thinking around shielding and how to protect quality of life. The prospect of having to remain in lockdown with no end in sight could have a very real impact on people’s physical and mental health, as well as their financial wellbeing, so we need to ensure there is real support for these groups as the country moves forward.”

Sinead Fitzgibbon, who has rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and was featured on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Friday 29 May, described the impact shielding has had on her life. She said:

“When you see in black and white the instruction to stay indoors for 12 weeks it felt like the bottom was falling out of my world.”

Sinead was told she must not go out under any circumstances because she needs drugs that supress her immune system and would be seriously at risk from coronavirus. First that meant staying in for 12 weeks - now until the end of June, and that could be extended again.

“It really felt like we were told to just go away, disappear, we can’t deal with you right now. Out of sight, out of mind.”

She’s left making what money she can running online training sessions.

She was also asked her reaction to the news that people would have to remain shielding whilst the country began lifting lockdown restrictions. She added: “It felt like a postscript, I still feel marginalised and isolated, and I still feel we’re not being taken seriously. If it is possible to relax things in nearly every other aspect of society, why not us.”

Read our joint letter to see what we’re collectively asking of the government.

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