Covid-19: shielding

Pharmacy technician Vicky is manning the dispensary phone.

“Pharmacy, good afternoon,” she says, picking up the handset. “Yes, it’s Vicky, who is this?”

“Oh Vicky, it’s Judy Harmer,” comes the response. “We’ve had to have the doctor out for my husband – you know my Richard, don’t you? – and it was only after he left that I realised I don’t know whether I can come and collect the prescription he wrote for Richard.”

“The doctor could send it through to us electronically, Judy,” says Vicky. “Just like the rest of your prescriptions come to us.”

“I don’t think I can do that with this. The doctor left a physical paper one,” answers Judy. “It’s just that Richard had one of those letters saying he can’t go out at all because he’s had a kidney transplant and he’s at higher risk than most with coronavirus, but I can’t work out if that means I can’t leave the house either. I didn’t get a letter, but you know I’ve just turned 75 and then there’s this whole household thing… I just don’t know what I’m meant to do. Richard doesn’t have coronavirus, by the way, it’s just an attack of gout, but it’s still very confusing.”


Someone living with an individual who has been advised to adopt shielding measures to protect them from contracting coronavirus – because they are considered to be at very high risk of severe illness if they do become infected – does not have to take the same steps themselves. However, while Judy may not be considered as vulnerable as Richard (due to his kidney transplant and anti-rejection regimen, which renders him immunosuppressed), her age does put her at increased risk from coronavirus. In this instance, it may be prudent for the pharmacy to try to sort out a delivery of the medication Richard needs, or for Judy to leave the prescription in a place where a friend or family member can pick it up, bring it to the pharmacy, then drop off the dispensed medication at the door in order to minimise contact.

The bigger picture

Shielding is a measure to protect extremely vulnerable people from contracting coronavirus from others by minimising interaction. NHS England has written to these individuals advising them to stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact with anyone other than household members for at least 12 weeks. 

While those living with someone who is shielding do not have to follow the same measures themselves, they should do all they can to support the practice, reduce contact outside the home and adhere to guidance on social distancing. The steps recommended are:

  • Minimising spending time in shared spaces, and keeping these parts of the home well ventilated
  • Keeping two metres away from the vulnerable person, encouraging them to use a separate bathroom and different beds where possible
  • Using different towels for bathing, showering and handwashing
  • If sharing a bathroom, making sure it is kept scrupulously clean, or devising a rota for different people to use the facilities and cleaning in between each use
  • Encouraging the vulnerable person to eat in their own room, ideally dishwashing their crockery and cutlery after use or washing up and then drying thoroughly by hand, remembering to use a separate tea towel
  • All household members should regularly wash their hands, clean frequently-touched surfaces and avoid touching their faces.

It is also important to be vigilant for symptoms that may be suggestive of Covid-19, such as a new continuous cough or fever, and to seek medical help quickly if necessary.

Extend your learning

  • Familiarise yourself with all the groups regarded as “extremely vulnerable” by reading the Government’s list
  • Getting help, for example with deliveries of groceries and medicines, is important for these vulnerable individuals. Find out how they can register for additional support via the Government’s website
  • Several new terms have passed into common parlance since the Covid-19 outbreak. Find out exactly what is meant by “social distancing” and “self isolation” from Age UK
  • People with respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD may feel very worried about coronavirus. Find out what Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation have advised.

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