This week 1.7 million more people have been added to the government’s Covid-19 shielding list in England because of a new algorithm that factored in people’s socioeconomic conditions and underlying health problems for the first time.

Three people who were added to the list share their experiences of being notified that they are at high risk from the coronavirus.

‘I went into a bit of a panic’


Mark Graham

Mark Graham

When Mark Graham received notification on Tuesday that he should be shielding, his immediate reaction was shock. He has a rare blood disorder which causes the immune system to destroy platelets, the tiny blood cells that help wounds to clot, but the clinic he attends for treatment had told him he was not at heightened risk from Covid-19.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Bloomsbury, London, said: “When I was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura in 2018, I had to have immunoglobulin transfusions and a cocktail of drugs to start to build up my immune system. But the last time I attended the clinic in October, they said they were happy with my platelet levels and didn’t need to see me for six months. Even at the start of the pandemic last March they said I was not a candidate for the shielding list.

“I went into a bit of a panic when I got the email informing me I was classified as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. Immediately, I phoned my GP surgery to try and get some clarification, and they eventually got back to me and said, ‘yeah, you’re on the list’.”

Graham then became concerned that he should have been on the list last year, and had unnecessarily put himself at risk for months while working at John Lewis Oxford Street and his local Waitrose. “Ninety percent of the time I’m on the shop floor,” he said. “I’m completely exposed to the public while I’m working. I had been taking an abundance of precautions because there are always people who just don’t bother wearing masks. I was an early advocate of double masking.”

Two days before he was told to shield, Graham received a notification via the NHS mobile app that he had been in contact with someone who had tested positive and needed to self-isolate.

“So I’m both self-isolating and shielding at the moment,” he said. “It will be a contact from work. Once I come out of shielding, then that will be a very real conversation that I will have with them.”

‘I’ve been putting myself at risk … What if I had caught Covid?’

Robyn, 34, an NHS manager in the east Midlands, said she felt “confused and angry” after receiving the notification email signed by the ministers Matt Hancock and Robert Jenrick.

Robyn said her only underlying health condition is a high body mass index (BMI) and she is being treated for an eating disorder. She said she had found receiving the news by email “out of the blue from a central office” and not from her GP, who understands her medical history, difficult.

“I’m at the point in my treatments where I’m meant to be trying to learn to appreciate my body,” she said. “Then learning my body has put me at risk has led to a kind of wobbly couple of days in terms of that.”

Like Graham, Robyn also has concerns that she was not put on the shielding list earlier. “I’m quite angry” because surely a high BMI “would have been a risk factor a year ago”, she said.

She has been working from home during the pandemic, but her partner, who is also an NHS manager, has been going into hospital. They also spent Christmas Day with their respective families. “You think, obviously I’ve been putting myself at risk … what if I had caught Covid? Would I be one of those people who needed ventilation, would I have survived even?”

As a health worker, Robyn has already received her first Pfizer jab and expects to have her second dose next month. But she will be following government advice to shield until the end of March.

‘I always thought I should be on the highly vulnerable list’

Claire, 35, who has type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and asthma, said she was pleasantly surprised when she was informed on Thursday morning that she should be shielding.

The graphic designer, who lives in Bristol, was also surprised she had not been placed on the shielding list last year. “It’s a relief to finally be told what I already assumed,” she said. “I have drug infusions for my MS every month, and the nurses there have been very surprised I wasn’t already on the list.”

Despite not being classified as extremely vulnerable earlier, Claire said she and her partner, who has mild asthma but is not deemed clinically vulnerable to Covid, “lived through the pandemic as if I were shielding for the most part”.

“The first couple of months when we were still living in London, I don’t think I left the house at all,” she said.

But not being told to shield earlier meant they could not get shopping delivered to their home, she added: “I’ve not been in a shop since the pandemic started. We weren’t able to get online delivery for a long time. So my partner was still having to go to supermarkets, which we would have preferred him not to do.”

Despite now being officially added to the shielding list, Claire has not yet been able to get a Covid vaccination appointment. “I thought I’m classed as highly vulnerable now, I can just do that. But the website wouldn’t let me. So I phoned the helpline, and they can’t do anything about it and that my status probably just hasn’t been updated yet. It’s just frustrating because with the vaccine you can sort of see the end in sight.”

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