Skip to main content

COVID-19 – high risk shielded patient list identification methodology

Publication date :


This document describes the methodology that has been used to identify patients who meet the high risk criteria for contracting coronavirus (COVID-19), due to their inclusion in one or more of the disease groups as outlined in table 1.

The list of conditions that defined this cohort was signed off by the Chief Medical Officers of the four nations of the UK on 18 March 2020 and is listed in this document. 

September 2020: Version 10.0

Important notice

Application of this rule set to personal data or special category personal data must be lawful under the common law duty of confidence and GDPR and must also be ethical.


Failure to comply with the common law duty of confidence and the GDPR could lead to enforcement action being taken against you by the Information Commissioner.


Please ensure you, therefore, have a lawful basis to apply this algorithm to relevant personal data or special category data that you hold, and that any processing you carry out in connection with this rule set is otherwise lawful under GDPR and any other relevant data protection laws.

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for England, working with the CMOs of the devolved administrations and other senior clinicians, commissioned NHS Digital to produce a list of vulnerable people at “high risk” of complications from COVID-19, who should be shielded for at least 12 weeks.

This list, originally referred to as the Vulnerable Patient List (VPL), has been renamed the shielded patient list (SPL).

The SPL list was defined as a subset of a wider group of people who may be “at risk”.

Specific advice applies to these groups, currently:

  1. “At Risk” – a larger group (circa 19 million) normally at risk from influenza – should practice strict social distancing
  2. “At high risk” – a smaller sub-group (circa 1.5 million), defined by CMO – should practice complete “shielding”

Published September 2020  Version 10.0


View previous published versions: archive copy of Version 1 and archive copy of Version 2

Last edited: 7 October 2020 7:45 am

Publication chapters