Relaxation of shielding restrictions will be a ‘great relief’ for patients – but GPs must have clear information and advice to give them, says College

Publication date: 22 June 2020

The College has issued the following statement, following tonight’s announcement by Health Secretary Matt Hancock that shielding restrictions for patients in England will start being lifted from Monday 6 July.

Professor Martin Marshall, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Shielding has been an important part of the response to COVID-19, with the aim of keeping those patients who are most at risk safe by avoiding potential exposure to the virus as much as possible. It hasn’t been easy for those affected, but it has been necessary.

“Today’s announcement to relax shielding guidance, and eventually suspend the programme, will be a great relief to many ‘shielding’ patients who have found the process difficult, particularly those for whom it has had a negative impact on their physical and mental health. But some patients will still be anxious about catching the virus and whether it is safe to start going out more, whether for work or otherwise.

“It’s also vital that while easing restrictions will likely be welcomed by many, our patients who are classed as most vulnerable will remain more at risk of catching COVID-19 than others, and so even when these changes come into play, it is imperative ‘shielding’ patients remain vigilant, follow strict social distancing measures and maintain good hygiene practices.

“GPs have been at the forefront of identifying patients who have been shielding and answering their questions about the rules. We will remain the first port of call for patients concerned about their health and we anticipate many patients will approach their GP worried about how the process will change and how it will impact on them. We need to be absolutely clear about the information and advice we can give them.

“We appreciate the notice the profession has been given about these forthcoming changes. This will allow us to make necessary preparations in our practices to support our patients accordingly – and the College will be updating our resources for GPs and their teams imminently. But as GPs, who take a holistic view to delivering care, we still have many unanswered questions as changes to shielding guidance will not just affect our patients’ health but other parts of their lives that are relevant to their health.

“The College recently wrote to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions, calling for clarity around the working rights for those who have been advised to shield. This is something our members report patients asking them about,  given that shielding patients are not necessarily sick and therefore not entitled to fit notes. It is vital that GPs and other healthcare professionals are given as much clear information as possible on such issues surrounding shielding and about the safety and practicalities of any changes to the guidance, so that we can advise appropriately and hopefully alleviate any concerns.”

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