Background: The national shielding programme was introduced by UK Government at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with individuals identified as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV) offered advice and support to stay at home and avoid all non-essential contact. This study aimed to explore the impact and responses of "shielding" on the health and wellbeing of CEV individuals in Southwest England during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
Methods: A two-stage mixed methods study, including a structured survey (7 August-23 October 2020) and semi-structured telephone interviews (26 August-30 September 2020) with a sample of individuals who had been identified as CEV and advised to "shield" by Bristol, North Somerset & South Gloucestershire (BNSSG) Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Results: The survey was completed by 203 people (57% female, 54% > 69 years, 94% White British, 64% retired) in Southwest England identified as CEV by BNSSG CCG. Thirteen survey respondents participated in follow-up interviews (53% female, 40% > 69 years, 100% White British, 61% retired). Receipt of 'official' communication from NHS England or General Practitioner (GP) was considered by participants as the legitimate start of shielding. 80% of survey responders felt they received all relevant advice needed to shield, yet interviewees criticised the timing of advice and often sought supplementary information. Shielding behaviours were nuanced, adapted to suit personal circumstances, and waned over time. Few interviewees received community support, although food boxes and informal social support were obtained by some. Worrying about COVID-19 was common for survey responders (90%). Since shielding had begun, physical and mental health reportedly worsened for 35% and 42% of survey responders respectively. 21% of survey responders scored ≥ 10 on the PHQ-9 questionnaire indicating possible depression and 15% scored ≥ 10 on the GAD-7 questionnaire indicating possible anxiety.
Conclusions: This research highlights the difficulties in providing generic messaging that is applicable and appropriate given the diversity of individuals identified as CEV and the importance of sharing tailored and timely advice to inform shielding decisions. Providing messages that reinforce self-determined action and assistance from support services could reduce the negative impact of shielding on mental health and feelings of social isolation.
Keywords: COVID-19; Health policy; Infection control; Public health; Shielding.
© 2022. The Author(s).