Skip to main content

Shielded patients list: guidance for General Practice

Guidance to ensure the right patients are identified as at high risk from developing complications from coronavirus (COVID-19).

Missing shielding letter

If a patient is missing a shielding letter, please check that they are clinically extremely vulnerable and then issue a letter using the relevant letter template in the “how to flag patients as high risk” section below. We are unable to reissue patient letters nationally.

The shielded patients list

The shielded patient list comprises patients identified using national administrative datasets and patients identified by hospitals or general practice and flagged as high risk. Patients identified nationally are selected using a rule set.

The shielded patient list is updated daily with hospital data, address changes and where patients have passed away. It is updated weekly with GP data.

Clinical criteria for a high-risk patient

The clinical criteria were identified by the UK Chief Medical Officers. We have also provided details of our methodology so that the mapping to individual conditions and medicines can be seen.

Following a review of the evidence since the start of the pandemic about which people are more likely to become very unwell as a consequence of COVID-19 infection, the UK Chief Medical Officers have instructed that two new conditions be included in the “high risk” criteria:

  • Adult patients with Down’s syndrome
  • Adult patients with kidney impairment (Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease)

The national methodology has been updated to identify patients with these conditions. GPs should continue to review the risk status of those of their patients with these conditions on an ongoing basis using the additional guidance and specific patient letter templates provided in the sections below.

Children and young people at “high risk” from COVID-19 should continue to be identified based on the guidance published by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) and are not included in the two additional conditions above.

Adult patients with Down's syndrome

All adult patients (aged 18 years or over) with Down’s syndrome should be identified and flagged as “high risk”. For information, the following are those SNOMED-CT codes used nationally to identify Down’s syndrome on a patient record:

You should flag any adult patients you identify with Down’s syndrome as “high risk” by following the guidance below for adding a patient.

You should also write to adult patients with Down’s syndrome if you have identified them as at high risk of complications from coronavirus (COVID-19).

An Easy Read letter template has been provided for those with Down’s syndrome in the “How to flag patients as high risk” section below.

Adult patients with kidney impairment (Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease)

Trusts and renal units have been asked to identify and contact adult patients with stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (in addition to those that clinicians should already be identifying as “high risk” who are on dialysis or with a renal transplant).

If a practice wishes to add an adult patient with Stage 5 CKD directly to the high risk category in lieu of their renal unit, please follow the guidance below on adding a patient to the high risk category, ensuring you discuss this with the patient, and notify their renal unit of their inclusion.

How to flag patients as high risk

You should flag any patients you identify as high risk by adding the SNOMED CT code to their patient record.

You should write to your patients if you have identified them as at high risk of complications from coronavirus (COVID-19). The letter provides advice and guidance on what it means to be at high risk, information relating to the support available, going to work, accessing NHS services and mental health support, as well as guidance on current restrictions.

Revised patient additions letter templates were made available to GPs via GP system suppliers in January 2021. They can also be downloaded here:

For further information on identification of patient’s with Down’s syndrome please see the guidance earlier on this page.

You do not need to write to your patients if they are identified nationally or by hospitals. Correspondence will be provided either nationally or by the Trust adding the patient to the Shielded Patient List respectively.

How to flag patients as low or moderate risk

If you decide the patient should not be on the Shielded Patient List, you can flag them at moderate or low risk to keep a record of your decision.

You should also write to patients who you have previously been on the Shielded Patient List and now are assessed as being at low or moderate risk.

An updated Word template of the letter was made available to GPs via GP systems in September 2020. Download a letter template for patients assessed as not being at high risk

In addition to this, an Easy Read version of the letter was also made available in December 2020.  Download an Easy Read letter template for patients assessed as not being at high risk. The Easy Read template should be used in addition to the former where it is appropriate to do so.

Hospital trusts can also deduct patients by submitting a request to the NHS Shielded Patient List. These patients are identified by a low or moderate risk flag in your GP system.

Support for patients at moderate risk

Government service to find support for those affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)

Find out what patients can do if they're struggling because of coronavirus (COVID-19)

Patients can use the service for themselves or for someone else.

NHS volunteer responders

You can submit a live referral for an individual that needs support, or an NHS service that requires volunteers providing they meet the referring criteria, to NHS Volunteer Responders. 

Online referral

Complete an online patient referral form

Telephone referral

If you are an approved referrer and would like to make a referral over the telephone, please call the NHS Volunteer Responders Support Team: 0808 196 3382.

Volunteers can provide:

  • check in and chat support – short-term telephone support to individuals who are at risk of loneliness because of self-isolation (note, this is not mental health advice)
  • community support – collection of shopping, medication, or other essential supplies for someone who is self-isolating, and delivering these supplies to their home
  • patient transport – transport to take patients home who are medically fit for discharge
  • NHS transport – who will deliver medicines on behalf of the community pharmacy or dispensing doctor

Health at home

Health at home provides patients with an overview of NHS services that are available, such as how to order repeat prescriptions online and get them delivered.

Public Health England guidance

Local councils

Local councils are working with voluntary sector organisations and local communities to support residents in the response to coronavirus (COVID-19). 

You can signpost patients to GOV.UK to find their local council website to get more information.

Government advice on employment and financial support

The government has provided advice on employment and financial support.

Self-referring patients

All practices should now have completed the assessment of self-referring patients. 

View guidance on reviewing self-referring patients.

How the information is used

The information flows to Cabinet Office to allow them to run the shielded patient service which will provide further support for local and regional lockdowns. It is matched with the registrations made by patients and then used to co-ordinate support, for example priority with online shopping.

The information also flows to Local Authorities to allow them to provide targeted support to high risk patients within their authority boundaries, before, during and after a lockdown, offering help, social care and support as part of the local COVID-19 response.

The information also flows back to general practice, hospital Trusts and prison health, by marking the record with a high risk of complications flag.

How often updates are made

Data is extracted from GP systems and passed to the Cabinet Office and Local Authorities on a weekly basis.

Updates from the shielded patient list to GP systems also occur weekly.

Why someone may be flagged as high risk but does not appear to fit the criteria

The national rule set uses clinical codes to identify patients, as described in the methodology, including those provided in national datasets such as the Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) dataset and GP flu extract data. The rule set has been designed to be as inclusive as possible to ensure that all patients are informed.

Patients can be removed from the list by adding a “low” or “moderate” risk of complications from COVID-19 flag.

Why a patient may have been missed by the rule set

Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data uses clinical classifications which are broader than clinical terminologies, for example, READ or SNOMED CT. The data is also captured monthly and so, less timely. It does not capture patients who receive care in a different country or are treated by a private hospital. The medicines data collected centrally similarly runs several months behind and only collects medicines dispensed in community pharmacies, not any issued form hospitals.

GP data uses terminologies which are more specific (READ or SNOMED CT) but it is reliant upon the application and interpretation of the clinical codes used.

How to report an issue with the rule set

If you are aware of a systematic issue regarding the rule set please email: and this will be investigated.

Shielded patients list records added to practice

During week commencing 4 May 2020, risk flags were added to those patient records identified on the national shielded patients list. This comprised three weeks of additions by the national algorithm and hospitals, completing the initial population of the list.

Since this first set of additions, updates have been applied to the list via weekly feeds to GP systems suppliers, representing changes to the risk status provided from the previous week’s GP amendments (“high”, “moderate” or “low” risk flags), changes requested by hospital trusts to add or remove patients in their care on the SPL, and ongoing identification of those who meet the CMO criteria via the national ruleset.

Further information

NHS Digital

Shielded patients list

Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP)

Resources available from the RCGP

Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH)

Covid-19 shielding guidance for children and young people


Last edited: 15 January 2021 5:25 pm