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Briefing on volunteering and the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group (the ‘1.5 million’)

This article provides information on: 

  1. Who the ‘shielded group’ of 1.5m people are, and how the Government plans to support them 
  2. General Government guidance on volunteering 
  3. The latest specific information on how you can provide voluntary support to address the consequences of Covid-19 (for the ‘shielded group’ or others) 

Information about the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group (or the ‘shielded group’) 

The Government has defined a group of people as ‘extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 on medical grounds. This means they are most likely to become very unwell if they get coronavirus. The official guidance doesn’t use the number because it is only an estimate, but this is the group of ‘1.5 million people’ who have the media have referred to. 

The NHS should be sending a letter to everyone in this group. Most of these letters should now have arrived. If people have not had a letter, they should call their GP for advice. People are defined as extremely vulnerable if they: 

  • Have had transplants (like a kidney or liver transplant) 
  • Are having treatments for some cancers  
  • Have long-term lung disease 
  • Were born with conditions that make the body, blood and cells work differently and are more likely to get infections 
  • Taking drugs that reduce the body’s responses for fighting infections 
  • Are pregnant and have significant heart disease 

These people are asked to ‘shield themselves. This means: 

  • Not leaving their house for 12 weeks from the day they receive the letter. 
  • Strictly avoiding contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of coronavirus (including a high temperature and/or new and continuous cough). 
  • Keeping in touch using remote technology such as phone and the internet. 
  • Maintaining as much ‘social distancing’ as possible with other people they live with including (where possible): staying 2m apart, using different towels and cleaning the bathroom regularly, eating alone, and not sharing a bed, 
  • The only exception is that carers and medical staff can continue to come in to provide essential care. They must wash their hands thoroughly. 
  • Where possible, people are expected to rely on friends and family to help them get food, medicine and other essentials (and these should be left on the doorstep). If they have no-one to do this, they should: 
  • go to www.gov.uk/coronavirusextremely-vulnerable or call 0800 028 8327 to register for help, and 
  • speak to their pharmacy directly about getting medication delivered (if they need this) 
  • National Government will be coordinating a response which ensures everyone in this group who registers through the website or phone number above receives regular food parcels. However, this may take a few weeks to become fully operational. They will also be basic, and local authorities are being asked to supplement where the can. Each local authority is setting up ‘Community Hubs’ to coordinate this. 
  • More information can be found here, or in easy-read format here. 

General Government guidance on volunteering 

The government is now asking everyone to stay at home at all times except for four specific activities. Recent Government guidance has confirmed you can leave home to provide support to vulnerable people but only if: 

  • you are well and neither you nor anyone in your household has symptoms  
  • you are under 70 
  • you are not pregnant 
  • you do not have any long-term health conditions that make you vulnerable to coronavirus 

The Government has published advice on how to help safely. This is not long and you should read it in full. However, in summary it says: 

  • You can help households who are isolating, but you should not go into their home unless you absolutely have to. 
  • You should maintain 2m social distancing wherever possible 
  • You should try to pick up supplies for people you are helping at the same time you are doing your own shop 
  • Common tasks you could help with include: help with food shopping, collecting medicines, staying in touch over the phone or online, or encouraging people to stay mentally and physically active. 

How you can help 

  • Volunteer with your local voluntary organisation. The web https://www.solinked.org.uk/ site provides information and will link you through to an organisation in your area that can help you find local volunteering opportunities.  
  • Volunteer through NHS volunteers. You can register for NHS Volunteers, which is a nationally coordinated scheme which will take referrals from the NHS and local authorities.  

Volunteers can sign up to be  

  • Community responder collecting supplies and delivering them to people’s homes 
  • Patient transport volunteer providing transport to people who are ready to leave hospital 
  • NHS transport volunteer providing transport to get NHS staff, equipment or supplies where they need to go 
  • Check-in and chat volunteer telephoning people who are isolating and at risk of loneliness 

You may also choose to get involved in more hyper-local ‘good neighbour’ type volunteering such as the Southampton Coronavirus Mutual Aid Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/southampton.covid19.support/This may not involve any ‘accreditation’ or the involvement of any established charities or public services. If you’re doing this, please be careful to stick to the rules above.  

Annex A – Technical list of people in the extremely vulnerable group 

People falling into this extremely vulnerable group include: 

  • Solid organ transplant recipients. 
  • people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer 
  • people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment 
  • people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer 
  • people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors 
  • people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired. 

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