Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
At the start of the pandemic, to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, we produced a list of people who needed to take extra precautions and to shield themselves against coronavirus. This list was shared with local authorities, supermarkets, water companies and the National Pharmacy Association to support provision of services to enable people to remain at home.
We now know a great deal more about the virus and we have an extremely successful vaccination programme. This means that the numbers of people who need to exercise extreme caution has been reduced significantly. We have a duty under UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR) to review the information we share and in light of this change of context we will be ending the share of the shielding patient list with these partners.
In March 2020, we knew a lot less about SARS-CoV-2 and how it was transmitted from person to person than we do today. All around the world, we have continued to learn more about this virus – and how to treat and control infection – with every week and month which has passed.
In the first months of the pandemic, we advised thousands of people, who were at the greatest risk of contracting the virus and of coming to serious harm as a consequence, to shield. We put in place a range of support to help them shield – from weekly free food deliveries to access to medicines and other services. This included provision of drinking water in circumstances where supplies were disrupted.
We did this by sharing details of those on the Shielding Patient List with local authorities, supermarkets, water companies and the National Pharmacy Association. This was done on a ‘public task’ justification under UK GDPR as they were necessary to protect people who were believed to be most at risk at the time.
The position is very different now. The advice to follow shielding measures was paused on 1 April 2021 and the Chief Medical Officer for Wales has indicated he does not intend to ask people to shield again.
Capacity for home deliveries has increased significantly across all major food retailers and we have seen a significant drop in the number of people on the Shielding Patient List who are using priority shopping slots. Retailers have assured us they have the capacity to meet demands as part of the normal course of business. We have also consulted local authorities and they no longer require this data to carry out services.
Our understanding of what makes someone extremely vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus infection has developed, as new treatments have developed and alongside the success of the vaccination programme.
To meet our obligations under UK GDPR, we have kept the data held as part of the shielding programme under regular review. Following recent considerations, I have agreed that the sharing of the Shielding Patient List with partners, such as local authorities, supermarkets and water companies will end.
With the exception of the small numbers of people currently using priority shopping slots, who will now be moved to regular delivery arrangements by food retailers, individuals on the Shielding Patient List will see no direct changes as a result of this change to data sharing. As such, no letter from the CMO will be issued about this change.
The Welsh Government will continue to retain and update the existing list for up to six months, should it be needed, and statistical data relating to the list will be retained indefinitely for research and evaluation purposes.