GP leaders have demanded clarity over plans to relax shielding rules - warning that practices face an avalanche of questions from concerned patients amid reports that the rules will be lifted from the end of July.
NHS England officials have said the government will contact all patients on shielding lists by 30 June to confirm its plans - as Northern Ireland confirmed it would lift shielding from 31 July and the UK announced that the COVID-19 alert level had been lowered.
NHS England primary care medical director Dr Nikki Kanani told a webinar on 18 June: ‘Some people might have seen some commentary... talking about shielding coming to an end.
‘What the government has committed to is writing to shielding patients by 30 June - and they will be reviewing the shielding advice in line with the wider measures to ease lockdown.'
The primary care medical director said changes were likely to come in the week beginning 22 June, adding: 'The government's position is that the incidence in the community is far lower than it was before the lockdown.’
Dr Kanani explained that incidence of COVID-19 infection in the community had come down from one in 500 three weeks ago, to one in around 1,700 last week.
‘We are expecting further announcements probably early next week and, obviously, as soon as they are announced we will make sure that you are informed. As I mentioned, patients should also be receiving letters about the next steps before 30 June, which is when the current shielding period ends,’ she added.
During the webinar GPs were also told to maximise efforts for flu vaccine take-up. In a letter sent last month NHS England suggested that additional cohorts could be added to the flu vaccination programme.
But NHS England director for primary care strategy Ed Waller said there was no update. He said: ‘The thing that we can say at the moment is that people should be reading the annual flu letter that was published on 14 May.
‘The letter gives most of the details of the flu programme. It does point though to the possibility that there could be additional cohorts added to the programme and as soon as we hear what the decision is we will be communicating it to people in the usual way.’
‘In the meantime, you should be planning on ordering vaccines to maximise take up and deliver the programme in the usual way.'