Revealing, moving, and insightful accounts of the range of difficulties vulnerable groups have faced through COVID-19 were shared at the latest meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vulnerable Groups to Pandemics, attended by APPG officers Lord Mendelsohn and Lisa Cameron MP.

On 22 March, the APPG held an oral evidence session with a coalition of patient charities who gave testimony on a range of issues facing vulnerable groups such as inconsistent public health guidance and difficulties in accessing treatment.  

Representatives including the British Lung Foundation, Kidney Care UK and Lupus UK gave evidence on the problems posed by slow, inconsistent and poorly communicated government guidance on shielding, from the early stages of the pandemic through to the recent announcement of the lifting of shielding guidance, and in particular called for greater clarity on the rationale behind changes in guidance, such as how the vaccination programme has been factored in to updated guidance. 

A clear incongruence was identified between changes in government communication and patient realities through the pandemic – barriers in access to treatment were felt despite communication the NHS has been ‘open for business’, and changes in shielding guidance were felt to poorly reflect patients’ experience of vulnerability through COVID-19. 

New uptake of digital technology across the NHS was identified as one of the few positive outcomes from the pandemic, providing patients with safe and otherwise inaccessible contact with health professionals; initial successes in digital health innovations in a strategy against future pandemics could ensure patients are not deprived of healthcare access in the future. 

The oral evidence at yesterday’s session will feed into the APPG’s ongoing inquiry on vulnerability through COVID-19 to inform a future government strategy to protect vulnerable groups through pandemics. If you missed yesterday’s session, please submit evidence to the inquiry here - http://bit.ly/3soShOB