Yesterday I met with Dr Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, to discuss shielding. Ahead of the meeting I asked people on Twitter to get in touch to share their experiences and I am hugely grateful to everyone who did so.
I felt that the meeting was productive and I was able to find out some useful information, which I will summarise here.
Firstly, on the new shielding letters. Dr Harries informs me these are due to be sent out as soon as possible. I raised the issue of accessibility, which she noted was a good point and said she would feed back to the relevant policy team.
I asked whether the shielding list would be revised. Dr Harries confirmed it would not be, as we currently do not have enough information available to be able to do so safely and confidently. She also said the UK would be looking to other countries to share their findings.
On financial support for those who are shielding and cannot work from home, although this is not within her remit Dr Harries was able to confirm the current Government advice that they will be eligible for sick pay. I realise this will not be welcome news to many and my Labour colleagues and I will continue to push for greater support.
I also asked about access to food, particularly online food deliveries, and whether minimum spend thresholds and delivery charges would/could be removed for people who are shielding. Again, this does not fall directly within Dr Harries’ remit, but she noted that this was a good point and said she would feed this back and arrange for me to be updated as soon as possible. She did, however, also note that local authorities will once again be responsible for ensuring vulnerable people have the support they need.
Finally, I asked about school children who need to shield. Dr Harries informed me that this list has been revised, and that the number of children shielding will be reduced from c. 90,000 to c. 15,000. She confirmed that they will able to stay off school and learn remotely, and that local authorities and schools will be contacting each family to discuss their individual needs. However, non-shielding children living in the same household as someone who is shielding will still be required to attend school. I know this is something which concerns a lot of people and will continue to keep this under review over the coming weeks.
Dr Harries was only available for a limited time, but I am pleased I was able to raise many of the big issues which are concerning people at the moment. I will, of course, continue to do everything I can to fight for clinically extremely vulnerable people to get the support they need. As part of this, I am considering using some of your stories to highlight the personal battles people are facing. If you would be happy to share your situation – either via a short blog on my website, or a short video that could be shared on social media – please do let me know by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).