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Unions call for shielding staff to work from home as 1.7 million added to vulnerable list

17 Feb 2021 By Francis Churchill

New NHS guidance nearly doubles the number of individuals classed as at higher risk from coronavirus

The number of people being advised to shield from coronavirus in England has nearly doubled after a change in health guidance, including almost a million who are of working age.

An additional 1.7 million people have been identified as clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) announced yesterday, following the rollout of a new risk assessment model by the NHS.

Of the new additions to the list, 820,000 are under the age of 70 and are unlikely to have been vaccinated.



The expansion of the list has led to renewed calls from unions for employers to allow workers advised to shield to either work from home or, if this is not possible, to offer them furlough. “These new shielders who can’t work from home must not lose their jobs and livelihoods overnight,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC.

“This will be a very worrying time for hundreds of thousands of working people. Some will be able to work from home – but others will not… Employers must furlough new shielders who can’t work from home to keep them and their jobs safe.”

Kate Palmer, HR advice director at Peninsula, said many individuals included in the new list were likely to not be of working age. But, she said: “Some companies will see an increased number of staff now being advised to shield and prepare for this.


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“Employers based in England must be prepared to have additional conversations with any member of staff who now falls into this category and respond accordingly. It is currently unclear how long this advice to shield will last.” 

Palmer explained that individuals told to shield were being advised not to go into their workplace even if they can not work from home. She added that as well as being eligible for furlough, shielding workers were also entitled to statutory sick pay as long as they met the other eligibility criteria.

The expansion of the shielding list is the result of the rollout of a new predictive risk model, developed by Oxford University, which assesses whether an individual is at high risk from the virus because of a combination of personal and underlying health factors.

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology and inclusion health research at Oxford universities and one of the academics involved in the new modelling, said the model took into account factors including age, ethnicity and chronic illnesses to give individuals a score, enabling the health service to prioritise those most at risk for vaccination.

“While the initial shielding list was very much based on emerging evidence and clinical suspicion of who would be at highest risk, what this has done is really leverage all of the national data to calculate that risk,” Hayward told BBC Radio 4’s PM yesterday.

However, Hayward said the score did not include occupational risk because the data that the model was built on did not include occupation. “It completely ignores, for example, whether you’re staying at home or going to work, which has a big influence on your risk of acquiring Covid.”

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