• Mental and physical health of shielded patients is a source of concern
  • NHS group will review how to provide care while protecting patients from virus

NHS England has set up an advisory group to look at how physical and mental health services can be delivered to patients who are most vulnerable to covid-19 and have been asked to shield themselves from the pandemic.

There are now around 2.5 million patients on the list of people considered to be at the highest clinical risk, including solid organ transplant recipients and patients on chemotherapy, who have been told to cut themselves off from society as far as possible.

They are going to have to stay that way beyond the end of June, with suggestions that their isolation could continue for many more months hence, and there is significant concern about the impact of this on their ongoing physical and mental health.

The NHS has therefore set up an advisory group to examine how care can be provided to these patients.

Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, told a webinar hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine today: “[It’s] one thing asking people to do this for a few weeks, maybe up to a couple of months, but if we are looking forward into something which might continue, actually it needs a different sort of care and attention because putting a blood test off for a month might be fine, but it isn’t fine to put it off for three months.”

“There is a very specific piece of work looking at how services can be delivered safely on a continuous basis, through different means. So, sort of virtual means… Each patient should have had direct contact from their local clinicians to check up on them… and then, [with] this piece of work, [we’re] saying actually what mental health as well as physical health support services do we need, going forward?

This was precipitated by the results of a behavioural survey by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, Dr Harries explained.

It indicated that shielded population have roughly the same overall outlook on life as the general population, and “people report[ed] no deterioration overall in their physical health”.

However, “mental health issues are starting to become a concern and that’s one reason why NHS England have put together this [advisory] group. [It is] very well recognised and we’re trying to give it some attention.”

The event also heard how the government expects the shielded patient list to continue to change as time goes on and its understanding of the different risks to individuals develops.