It has been reported that thousands of vulnerable patients have been missed off the Government’s ‘high risk’ list for the coronavirus, despite meeting the criteria.
Among those who are in the highest clinical risk group for the virus, and therefore who need to take ‘shielding’ measures, are transplant patients, people on immunosuppressant medication or high dose steroids, and people with serious lung diseases including those with mesothelioma and severe asthma.
Many are concerned about their ability to get essential items such as food and medical supplies as they quarantine themselves for at least 12 weeks to shield against the infection.
With supermarkets using the Government’s ‘high risk’ list to prioritise vulnerable customers, there are fears that many eligible people who’ve not been included in the list are unable to access the supplies they need.
Mary Smith, specialist personal injury lawyer from our Bristol office says: “These are very uncertain and unprecedented times. The NHS and the Government are working around the clock to deal with the crisis and to help and support as many people as possible and they are doing a fantastic job, but unfortunately, there may be some vulnerable patients who, inevitably, slip through the net, and this is cause for concern.”
What to do if you’ve been missed off the list
Around 900,000 ‘high risk’ patients were originally identified by NHS Digital who should have already received an official letter or text.
There is a second phase of communications which is ongoing. This involves contacting a further 600,000 patients identified by their GPs and hospital doctors. However, at the time of writing, many people who fall into the highest risk category have yet to be contacted.
But what do you do if you have a serious underlying medical condition and haven’t been contacted?
If you have concerns that you may have been missed off the high risk list, there is a way to directly add yourself to the Government list via its website https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus-extremely-vulnerable.
The Government site advises patients to contact their GP or clinician after they’ve registered with its self-referral service but admits “it may take time for any support offered through this service to arrive. Wherever possible you should continue to rely on friends, family and wider support to help you meet your needs.”
The NHS England director of strategy, Emily Hough has admitted there are flaws in the current system and the process of sending out letters “hasn’t been as streamlined as we would have liked.”
She said: ‘We are trying to identify the majority of patients [who are at clinically the highest risk] through a national search on patient data but we know that there will be additions that will need to be added locally both by secondary care clinicians and yourselves [GPs].”
Many local authorities are doing what they can to plug the gap using volunteers. For example, in Bristol, a freephone telephone hotline has been set up, ‘We Are Bristol’ (0800 694 0184), for anyone to call if they need help with obtaining food, medication, or other essential items during the coronavirus lock down.
Expert legal view
Mary Smith says: “The delays in the system are extremely unfortunate causing additional distress at what is a very worrying time. GPs themselves have been given mixed messages, initially being told to help identify these missing vulnerable patients and then being asked on 1st April to wait for NHS England to do this centrally before intervening.
“The danger is that some vulnerable people will inadvertently put themselves at higher risk by leaving their home for essentials when they should be shielding themselves. It’s also putting tremendous pressure on relatives or friends of vulnerable patients who are concerned about what happens if they themselves get sick and can no longer look out for their friend or family member.”