People classed as ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ in Wales have been reassured that confirmation letters sent out by the Welsh Government should be with them this week after concerns were raised about delays.
People who are meant to shield have been advised not to attend work if they cannot work from home, something that particularly applies to those whose work puts them in “regular or sustained contact with other people”.
There are currently more than 134,000 people on the Shielding Patient List in Wales, and these people are supposed to receive letters which will act as proof of the need to shield and as evidence for the purposes of claiming sick pay, but the Welsh Government admitted before Christmas that these could take “some time” to reach people due to the festive period.
It has now said that these letters have been issued, and those that have not received them should do so in the coming days.
In the meantime, employees are told to refer their superiors to the guidance outlined on the Welsh Government website until those letters arrive. This is something which the government has reiterated this week as concerns were raised about the delay in letters being sent out.
Shielding was first introduced in March, 2020, and saw those most at risk of serious harm from coronavirus being told to stay at home and to shield themselves from any form of public life in order to protect themselves from the virus.
When the need to shield was lifted in August, 2020, the patient list was maintained so that the government could write to affected people again in the event of advice being brought back in.
Guidance was indeed updated before Christmas, and people who have a particularly serious underlying health condition and are therefore more vulnerable to developing serious illness if they are exposed to coronavirus were advised that they should no longer attend their workplace.
One woman has raised concerns about the delay in letters being sent, claiming her clinically vulnerable friend faced being forced back into work as she had no letter to confirm she was shielding.
She has contacted Public Health Wales in the past few days to complain about a scenario which she said was putting people’s health at risk.
“I phoned Public Health Wales on behalf of my friend and they said they had received quite a lot of calls about the same thing, with people concerned about being told to return to work,” she revealed.
“My friend has been in a total panic about the situation. She was shielding last time and received a letter that she could show to her employer. When the shielding period finished she was told that she would be contacted again if shielding came back in.”
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The employee in question, who is from the Cardiff area, did not want to be named and did not want to reveal the name of the company she worked for overs fears that she might lose her job.
She has chronic health conditions and was expected back at her job – with a national company – this week. Her employer is claimed to have told her that because she didn’t yet have an updated letter confirming that she was on the patient list, she must come into her place of work. She was concerned that if she did not, her job would be in jeopardy, but she was equally concerned that if she did, her health could be seriously impacted.
“People aren’t accepting what it says on the website because it doesn’t have a date on it or anything that makes it personal to that individual person,” the woman’s friend said.
“The Welsh Government really needs to act on this because companies and employers will know who needs to shield. If someone wasn’t on the list this time and now they are saying that they need to shield, I can understand why people might want to wait for a letter.
“But if someone was shielding last time due to a chronic condition, then it’s clear that they need to shield again. Those people are massively at risk. We are not just talking about getting a bit ill, we are talking about them being at risk of dying.
“It’s no good them going to work for a few days or a couple of weeks while they wait for a letter, it could be too late by then. It’s an absolute scandal.”
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The Welsh Government has insisted that employees in Wales should refer employers to its guidance on protecting people defined on medical grounds as being clinically extremely vulnerable from coronavirus.
A spokeswoman for the Welsh Government said: “If you feel that you have been treated unfairly by your employer, or somebody who gives you a service, then the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS) offers a free advice service which you can access by calling 0808 800 0082, by text phone on 0808 800 0084 or by visiting their website.
“If you continue to have concerns these can be raised either via trade union representatives or by contacting ACAS on 0300 123 1100 or by visiting their website.”