THOUSANDS of vulnerable patients in Warrington were not told to shield until months after lockdown began last year, new figures have revealed.

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 4,700 patients in Warrington 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 swell to 8,370 by May 15 – an increase of 78 per cent.

Across England, reviews led to shielding numbers increasing by 73 per cent, but this varied hugely on a regional level, from just 15 per cent in Carlisle to 352 per cent in the London borough of Hounslow.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee said the ‘unacceptable’ level of variation was evidence of a postcode lottery, as the list grew from 1.3 million to 2.2 million nationally.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “The shielding response in the Covid pandemic has particularly exposed the high human cost of the lack of planning for shielding in pandemic-planning scenarios.

“People were instructed to isolate to protect themselves and others, but the cost of this protection was reduced access to living essentials like food, and an untold toll on mental health and wellbeing.”

MPs also found that a contact centre established to trace those who did not respond to an initial shielding letter was unable to reach 800,000 people – and it is still not known whether they had been contacted by local authorities.

Clinically extremely vulnerable patients in England have not needed to isolate since April 1, by which point more than 90 per cent had received at least one vaccine dose.

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The national shielding list increased significantly again in February, when scientists developed a new tool to assess whether someone is at risk of severe disease or death.

The latest update shows the number on the shielding list in Warrington has risen to 13,055 as of April 14 – 8,355 more than a year previously.

The Government said it delivered an urgent national scheme to contact people and provide them with vital food and medicine so they could shield – but many chose not to take up the offer.

A spokesperson added: “These report findings are disappointing and misjudged.

“We have learned more about the virus and adapted our approach, which has enabled us to protect those most vulnerable by providing them with shielding guidance and prioritising them for vaccination.”