More than 125,000 Brits wrongly told to shield during last year's coronavirus lockdown

MORE than 100,000 Brits were wrongly told to stay inside and isolate from the world when they didn't need to during last year's lockdown, a damning report has found today.

A whopping 126,000 people were wrongly told to shield and cut themselves off from friends and family – forcing them to rely on others for food and medicines, the National Audit Office (NAO) found.

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They said a lack of contingency planning meant officials had to scramble to develop from scratch a system to identify those who might need support while they were unable to leave their homes.

They had to rely on out-of-date hospital records with missing, inaccurate phone numbers.

Many had to wait weeks to get needed deliveries of food or medicine.

A contact centre set up to reach those who had not registered for the scheme online or through an automated telephone line was unable to reach 375,000 people.

Ministers advised everyone who was told they were "clinically extremely vulnerable" should stay home for 12 weeks.

However, the NAO said the tests were based on 2016 flu pandemic preparations and were insufficient.

There was no way to look over NHS data to see who should be on the list or may need extra help.

OUT-OF-DATE RECORDS

Nearly one million people were first identified as very vulnerable and should stay at home.

But by May NHS digital and GPs added thousands more to the list – reaching 2.2million.

Half a million people were helped through the shielding programme at a cost of £300million to the taxpayer. Two thirds of that was spent on food boxes.

The NAO was unable to say whether it led to fewer deaths or serious illness, but added that it was "likely" to have helped.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, said: "Government quickly identified the need to support vulnerable people at the onset of the pandemic.

"But with nothing prepared, Government had to build its shielding programme from scratch. Nearly a million people were not eligible for support for weeks while the Government scrambled to gather basic information.

"Meanwhile, too many vulnerable people were left confused by Government's mixed messages."

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