Ending the Shielding Programme

02 December 2021

The decision to end shielding

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, shielding was introduced as one of the few ways to support those who, at the time, were considered clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV). It was the right decision at the time, but we know that shielding advice is extremely restrictive and can have a significant impact on people’s lives and their mental and physical wellbeing. For this reason, we have not advised people to shield since 1 April 2021, and since 19 July, people previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable have been advised to follow the same guidance as the rest of the population.

The situation is now very different to when shielding was first introduced. We know a lot more about the virus and what makes someone more or less vulnerable to COVID-19, the vaccine continues to be successfully rolled out, and other treatments and interventions are becoming available. You can read more information about the vaccine on our website.

We therefore no longer think it is appropriate to advise people to follow restrictive, centralised guidance. Instead, people should consider their own risk, supported by their NHS clinician where necessary.

Shielding in the future  

Based on what we now know about COVID-19, the success of the vaccine programme and with new treatments becoming available, we no longer think shielding is the best way to keep people safe. Shielding is very restrictive and can have a significant impact on people’s lives and their mental and physical wellbeing .As a result, we do not anticipate needing shielding again in the future. However, we have learnt a lot from setting up the shielding programme and will use that knowledge to help us in our planning for any future pandemic or emergency.

Risks in removing shielding

Shielding advice has not been in place since 1st April 2021, when it was paused.

Since 19th July, people previously identified as CEV have been advised to follow the same guidance as everyone else. Although this decision may seem scary, it was made based on the knowledge that for the majority of the CEV group, the risk of developing serious illness was reduced. We recognise that, despite advances in vaccination and treatments, there are people who remain at higher risk from COVID-19. However, advising people to stay at home and limit all contact is no longer the best or most appropriate way of keeping them safe. A one-size fits all approach is no longer applicable given that people can respond differently to the vaccine.

According to the JVCI, those who remain at higher risk after being vaccinated should discuss any necessary precautions with their NHS clinician as part of their routine engagement.

Taking precautions

As a minimum, you should continue to follow the same guidance as everyone else, which can be found at gov.uk/coronavirus. However, people who are less well-protected by the vaccine may wish to consider taking extra precautions and discuss their risk with their NHS specialist at their next routine appointment. Extra precautions could include:

  • Considering whether you and those you are meeting have been vaccinated – you might want to wait until 14 days after everyone’s second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine before being in close contact with others.
  • Considering continuing to practise social distancing if that feels right for you and your friends.
  • Asking friends and family to take a rapid lateral flow antigen test before visiting you.
  • Asking home visitors to wear face coverings.
  • Avoiding crowded spaces.

Going back to work

The Government is no longer telling anyone to work from home, however, employers still have a legal responsibility to protect their employees and others from risks to their health and safety. Your employer should be able to explain to you the measures they have in place to keep you safe at work. For example, some employers may ask employees to get tested regularly to identify people who are asymptomatic.

Anyone who is worried about their risk and is unable to work from home should talk to their employer about their concerns. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has published guidance on protecting vulnerable workers, including advice for employers and employees on how to talk about reducing risks in the workplace.

Access to Work can offer practical support to people who have a health condition that affects the way they work. The scheme can offer support including mental health support for people returning to work after a period of furlough or shielding, and travel-to-work support for those who may no longer be able to safely travel by public transport. For more information, please visit: gov.uk/access-to-work.

Shielding patients list information

The Shielded Patient List will be maintained in its current form for some time as the information about those who were previously identified as CEV is used by health and social care services to provide care and treatment, to plan health and social care services and to carry out medical research. NHS Digital maintains the Shielded Patient List and information about how your personal data is used is available on their website here.

See the most recent statement on data relating to the shielding patient list here.

More info

Want to find out more advice from the Department of Health and Social Care? Read the full government report from 3rd November 2021, here.