We know that if you or a loved one are living with a long-term health condition such as arthritis, the information available can be confusing.
We’ve pulled together the latest content from the NHS and worked with the British Rheumatology Society on guidance to help you assess your risk levels, and how best to protect yourself at this time.
Why is this important for rheumatology patients?
Some people are more vulnerable to the new coronavirus, COVID-19 than others. If you have an autoimmune condition and/or if you are receiving treatment to control your immune system your risk from COVID-19 is higher.
People with autoimmune conditions and people receiving treatment to control their immune systems should practise social distancing. Some should also self-isolate as part of ‘shielding’.
If you are in a group which is ‘extremely vulnerable’ to COVID-19, you need to shield yourself to stay safe during this pandemic. You should stay at home all the time. You should not have any face-to-face contact at all, except with people who provide you with essential support for at least 12 weeks.
This is because your immune system might not be strong enough to fight the virus, or because of other health problems making it harder to keep yourself safe. Shielding is the best way to keep yourself safe.
How can I find out if I am at ‘extremely vulnerable’?
The NHS are writing to people who are ‘extremely vulnerable’. You may have had a letter already from the NHS. Some rheumatology patients haven’t yet had a letter. If the NHS or your rheumatology team has told you that you’re ‘extremely vulnerable’, then you should follow that advice and shield yourself.
If you’re not sure, the calculator below can help you work out your risk level.
What help can I get?
If you are in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group, you'll soon be able to ask for help getting deliveries of essential supplies like food and medicine. In England, you can register for this help on the gov.uk website.There's separate advice for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
If you’re not sure whether your medical condition makes you ‘extremely vulnerable’, register anyway.
Even if you have not had a letter from the NHS, you can estimate your risk level by answering the questions below.
If you score of 3 or more:
You are likely to be at ‘extremely vulnerable’ and probably need to shield yourself. Register for this help on the gov.uk website. If you are unsure whether you fall in this category, register for help first and then contact your rheumatology department. Do not wait to hear from your rheumatology department before registering for help, register now.
You are unlikely to need to shield yourself. You should practise very careful social distancing. If you are unsure whether you fall in this category, you can contact your rheumatology department.
You should continue to practise social distancing and self-isolate at your discretion. If you are unsure whether you fall in this category, you can contact your rheumatology department.
Where has this information come from?
The British Society for Rheumatology developed this risk scoring guideand shared it with rheumatology teams across the country. We’ve worked with the British Society for Rheumatology to develop this content.
What should I do now?
If you have read this and think you might be in the ‘extremely vulnerable’ group, register for support now. You should stay at home at all times and avoid any face-to-face contact at all except with people who provide you with essential support for at least 12 weeks.
Do not make any changes to your medication without discussing with your rheumatology department.
You can find out more about the provisions for people who are ‘extremely vulnerable’ from COVID-19 by visiting the gov.uk website.
If you think you do not need to shield, you can protect yourself and others by being very careful about social distancing and you can still self-isolate, if you wish to. This is the best way to stay safe if you have a long-term condition.
If you are unsure about your level of risk, please contact your rheumatology team.
These are the groups currently deemed more ‘at risk’ and therefore should take extra care to protect themselves:
As well as arthritis there are other clinical conditions that put people at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
People falling into this group are those who may be at particular risk due to complex health problems such as:
Remember, if you’re in this category, the NHS will contact you directly with advice on the more stringent measures you should take in order to keep yourself and others safe.
We strongly recommend you follow this guidance if you’re in one of the high-risk groups.
From 23 March, the government announced three measures for everyone in the UK:
Please see the latest stay at home guidance and advice on social distancing for more information.