Shock report reveals thousands of elderly and visually impaired people 'struggled to access food at start of pandemic'

A Sheffield MP has criticised a shocking report which found some elderly and visually impaired people struggled to access food at the start of the pandemic.

By Lucy Ashton, Local Democracy Reporter
Thursday, 22nd April 2021, 12:33 pm

Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee says a Government system failed to reach 800,000 clinically extremely vulnerable people.

The Local Democracy Service highlighted the plight of Martha Foulds, a visually impaired woman from Broomhall who had been left stranded, as far back as May 2020.

Healthwatch Sheffield also said there was “widespread confusion and anxiety” about shielding.

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Martha Foulds said back in May 2020 that visually impaired people had not been classed as vulnerable and were struggling.

Now the committee says the shielding scheme to support those most vulnerable to Covid was “quickly drawn up” and there were problems with poor data and a lack of joined up systems “seen all too often in government programmes”.

The government “took too long to identify some clinically vulnerable people at a time when their need was urgent”.

Up to 800,000 people may have “slipped through the net and missed out on much-needed support” – the government still does not know.

There was then a postcode lottery with huge local variations in those added to the shielding list. Those lists grew by up to 352 per cent in different local authority areas, and more than doubled in 33 authorities.

Sheffield Hallam MP Olivia Blake, who sits on the committee, said: “The findings of the report are shocking but come as no surprise.

“I heard from so many constituents who, due to not initially being labelled as clinically vulnerable, missed out on vital support and were left struggling to get by.

“Some were forced to continue to leave the house and put themselves at risk because they couldn’t access food boxes and medicine delivery offered through the shielding programme.

“We are not out of the woods yet. The department must take action now to ensure that local authorities have the capacity in the months ahead to support the needs of clinically extremely vulnerable people.”

The Department developed a new risk assessment tool to identify vulnerable people which prompted a huge increase in people advised to shield in February 2021 from 2.2 million to 3.9 million people.