News, Culture & Society

Cancer, asthma and transplant patients are ditched from Government’s coronavirus shielding list

Cancer, asthma and organ transplant patients were dropped from the Government’s coronavirus shielding list in an abrupt text message, it emerged last night.

Patients with various health conditions that raise their risk of dying from Covid-19 were told they had been removed from the scheme in the GOV.UK text.

The message – which has caused confusion and upset – also informed them they would no longer qualify for state-provided food parcels.

Those who received the text included liver transplant patients, those with brittle asthma, certain types of cancer, liver disease and people on immunosuppressant medications.

Many patients were alarmed that they had been dropped from the National Shielding Service without being talked through the decision by their GP. 

It’s unclear how many patients received the text last week, but more than 2million people in England were put on the shielding list at the start of the pandemic. 

Cancer, asthma and organ transplant patients have been dropped from the Government’s coronavirus shielding list. They were informed of the decision in an abrupt text message (file)

The text, seen by the Guardian, said: ‘This is an update from the National Shielding Service. 

‘We understand that your GP or hospital clinician has recommended that you no longer need to follow government advice to shield.

‘If you are receiving food deliveries via the National Shielding Service these will be stopped. 


Some groups of people are considered to be at extremely high risk of severe illness with coronavirus and should strictly follow shielding measures. 

According to NHS Inform, this includes people who:

  • have had solid organ transplants
  • have cancer and are receiving active chemotherapy
  • have lung cancer and are either receiving or previously received radical radiotherapy
  • have cancers of the blood or bone marrow
  • are receiving immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer 
  • are receiving other targeted cancer treatments, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors 
  • have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs 
  • have severe chest conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma and severe COPD 
  • have rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections 
  • are receiving immunosuppression therapies

‘This will not affect your eligibility for a supermarket priority delivery slot or any slots you already have in place.’

Leading health charities and several MPs have demanded the Department of Health give the patients some clarity.

The British Liver Trust said the decision had ’caused real worry for patients’ and urged those who had received a text to ‘continue to shield unless you have spoken to your doctor’.

Asthma UK said: ‘We have heard from people with severe asthma and lung disease who have been alarmed about receiving text messages with no explanation, dropping them from shielding. Some are saying their GP had also not been told. This is an utter mess.’

A spokesman for the Government said: ‘The government is committed to supporting the clinically extremely vulnerable and all decisions about whether someone should shield are clinically led.

‘In some cases health experts have advised that a patient no longer needs to shield themselves from coronavirus. Where this is the case, the person will be informed that they are not on the shielded patient list.

‘Those advised that they no longer need to shield may still access forms of support including the NHS Volunteers network, and will retain their supermarket priority delivery slots.’

An official shielding list was assembled at the start of the pandemic, which included patients with health woes that put them at risk of coronavirus complications.

They were advised to ‘stay at home at all times’ and offered food packages so they did not need to venture to the shops where they could be exposed to the disease.

One in 25 people in England are on the shielding list and classified as extremely vulnerable.

Care assistant Louisa Fenton, 24, who suffers from severe asthma, said getting the message on Friday had caused her extreme distress.

She told the Guardian: ‘This has made me feel awful. Throughout lockdown I’ve been living on my own and I’ve been relying on the food boxes.’

Ms Fenton said she felt like ‘a guinea pig in some kind of experiment’.

It comes just weeks after more than 100,000 people were wrongly told that they were ‘extremely vulnerable’ to coronavirus.

Letters were sent to 2.16million people advising them to ‘shield’ themselves by not leaving their homes and minimising all face-to-face contact – even more stringently than the measures applied to everyone else. 

But around five per cent of the recipients were incorrectly included. It follows the revelation that 10,000 letters had been sent to the homes of people who had died, causing distress to families.

The initial list of qualifying patients was put together in haste in mid-March, around the same time Prime Minister Boris Johnson began addressing the nation about the impending crisis.

But the speed and complexity of the process meant errors were included. After GPs were asked to validate the initial shielded patient list, around 107,000 patients were removed, the Department of Health and Social Care said.