Researchers in Aberdeen have found “substantial differences” across the UK among those asked to shield from Covid.
The work is the first update carried out by the Health Foundation’s Networked Data Lab (NDL), of which scientists from Aberdeen University and NHS Grampian form the Scottish arm.
Its first project was to study those who were told to shield from coronavirus, as they had been identified as vulnerable to severe illness if they were to be infected.
Those people were asked to remain at home, and minimise all contact with people outside their household.
Now, the research carried out by the team has shown that there was a difference in age, methods of identifying those at risk and the proportion of shielding people who live in deprived areas.
Dr Jessica Butler, research fellow at the university and analytical lead for the project in Grampian, said: “The shielding plan was made to protect those at very high risk of serious health problems if they contracted Covid-19. However, shielding could also have far-reaching negative consequences.
“Shielding could result in people not receiving usual healthcare for their underlying conditions so isolation now may result in worse outcomes and heavier use of healthcare later which means there is an urgent need to understand and plan for the healthcare needs of those shielding.
“It is our view that careful monitoring and early intervention are key to lowering risk.”
The NHS Grampian area had the lowest proportion of people asked to shield in the UK – only 2.5% or around 15,000 people.
People in the north-east were asked to shield if their GP or hospital consultant believed they were vulnerable to Covid-19.
This compares to 4.2% of people in Wales, 5.1% of people in North West London, 5.3% of people in Leeds and 7.5% of people in Liverpool and Wirral.
Those asked to shield in the north-east were much older than the population average, and more likely to live in an area that the Scottish Government classifies as deprived.
However, only 8% of the clinically extremely vulnerable population live in the most deprived areas in Grampian, compared with 60% of people shielding in Liverpool and Wirral.
Researches have said that a one-size-fits-all care plan to support vulnerable people will as a result not be effective, and that tailored guidance and support is needed.
Dr Butler added: “We found substantial variation across the UK in how shielders were identified as well as in their personal circumstances – including the types of illnesses they have, where they live whether that’s in towns and cities or rurally, neighbourhood deprivation, and ethnicity, all of which highlights the different types of support that will be needed to ensure this diverse group can stay safe.
“Most importantly, sharing and understanding the range of local approaches used to identify the most vulnerable and support them helps to ensure that all who are at risk are identified and given equitable access to the services they need.
“This is particularly important now, as many have been asked to shield again and the vaccination programme begins to reach these groups.”