“PROTECTING our most vulnerable was, and is, of the highest priority”, the director of public health for Northumberland County Council has said.

It comes after figures reveal thousands of vulnerable patients in the county were not told to shield until months after lockdown began last year.

The Government originally asked those considered to be the most vulnerable to Covid-19 to isolate at home in March last year.

NHS Digital figures show 8,320 patients in Northumberland were on the shielding list by April 12 – the earliest version available. Local doctors were then asked to review the data, causing the patient count to soar to 17,495 by May 15 – an increase of 110 per cent. The latest update shows the number on the shielding list in Northumberland has risen to 22,100 as of April 14 – 13,780 more than a year previously.

Liz Morgan said: “Early on in the Covid pandemic, the most vulnerable in our communities were identified by the NHS and asked to shield. The list was regularly updated and the shielding patient list (SPL) for Northumberland saw an increase from an initial 7,000 to over 22,000 by the time shielding was paused on April 1 21.

“Protecting our most vulnerable was, and is, of the highest priority. Northumberland Communities Together was launched by the council in response to the pandemic to ensure our residents were kept safe and well throughout the crisis. We provide coordination to support individual volunteers, voluntary groups and communities across our county. We were in contact with all of our shielded residents to support and reassure them, many of whom will have been anxious at that time.

“This included telephone contact and door to door visits. And for those needed it, we gave advice on support available including having prescriptions collected and food delivered.

“I am very proud of our staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to deliver services to our most vulnerable.