Concerns over shopping deliveries for shielded groups

A charity has warned that delays in building an effective system in Scotland 'could cost lives'.

Supermarkets: Shopping queuing.
Supermarkets: Shopping queuing.

A cancer charity has said vulnerable people in so-called “shielded” groups are struggling to get online slots for the delivery of groceries in Scotland.

Blood Cancer UK said it is taking too long to get an effective system up and running as thousands self-isolate due to the coronavirus pandemic, warning delays “could cost lives”.

There are around 157,000 Scots in the “shielded” category who have been told not to leave home at all, including roughly 10,000 people with blood cancer.

The charity has written to six supermarket chains and deputy first minister John Swinney demanding swift action to ensure the most at-risk groups are prioritised for food deliveries.

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It also claims many in shielded groups have not received a letter from the Scottish Government as promised advising them they are among the most at risk to Covid-19.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted on Thursday that everyone classed as in a shielded category has been notified.

Officials say 60,000 people in shielded groups have registered for a text messaging service to get deliveries, with more than 30,000 people requesting regular packages of groceries and over 46,000 packages ordered so far.

Around 21,000 people have also expressed an interest in priority delivery slots with their details passed on to participating supermarkets.

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Retailers – including Iceland, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s – have already contacted existing customers to say they are now eligible for priority deliveries and many are already receiving them, the government added.

But this opt-in system is different to the one in England, where a single list of shielded people has been compiled and shared with supermarkets.

And Blood Cancer UK highlighted the story of one family from Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, who have found it impossible to get supermarket deliveries.

Jude Irwin is shielding at home along with her husband Nigel, who has non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and their son.

Her husband’s blood cancer affects his immune system, meaning he is at much higher risk of becoming seriously unwell if he gets coronavirus.

She said: “I spend upwards of two hours a day online trying to get slots and usually end up in tears sometime during that time. Daily.

“We are fortunate that friends are helping, but we are very conscious that asking them to do so exposes them to risk and we are trying not to contribute to that.

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“I don’t think that’s fair and the limiting of goods means that if I ask for something, they are unable to buy all they might need.

“I think for me the stress also comes from the fact that having good fresh fruit and vegetables helps Nige stay as healthy as he can when dealing with cancer and the side effects of treatment.

“When we can’t get that as easily or as regularly, it’s distressing.”

Gemma Peters, chief executive of Blood Cancer UK, said: “We fear that the time it is taking to give people at very high risk priority for online deliveries could cost lives.

“We are now at the point where some people are being forced to choose between going hungry and making a trip to the supermarket that could be fatal if they pick up the coronavirus there.

“People with blood cancer are already scared about the virus and daunted by the prospect of spending so long without leaving their home.

“Not being able to get food is an extra worry they do not need.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We have identified and written to people in the highest clinical risk groups (shielded group) in Scotland, including people in all of the key categories.

“We will continue to add to the central list to ensure people are supported to shield.

“If people have not received a letter but feel they should be in the shielding group, they should speak to their GP or specialist clinician.

She added: “Our free of charge grocery packages have been delivered directly to doorsteps since April 3. 

“While not everyone who is shielding needs assistance with groceries, so far 60,000 people have registered for the shielding text message service and over 30,000 people have signed up for these regular box deliveries. 

“We are also working with the main supermarkets so that they can prioritise delivery slots for those who are shielding.”