Answers to some of the questions we are being asked most often through our helpline. 

Managing your physical and mental health

I am over 70. Do I need to stay at home?

The government guidance says that anyone over 70 is considered clinically vulnerable, even if you don’t have any health conditions. This means that you are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus. People in this group can follow guidelines set out for the general public about staying alert and safe social distancing, but are advised to use extra caution when meeting with people outside of their household. 

This is different to the guidance for people in the ‘shielding’ group who are considered clinically extremely vulnerable. As of 6th July, this group are being advised that they can form a ‘support bubble’ exclusively with one other household, and do not need to socially distance from other members of their support bubble. They can also meet outdoors in groups of up to six people, if they maintain strict social distancing. People in this group cannot take advantage of the new rules as of 4th July allowing the general public to meet inside or outside with one other household of any size (and this does not have to be the same household each time).

People in the clinically extremely vulnerable group have particular health conditions which have been identified as putting people at very high risk of becoming seriously ill from coronavirus. You do not need to follow the guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people if your health condition is not on this list.

Can I get tested for coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Anyone living in England showing symptoms of COVID-19 (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste), should ask for a test as soon as possible, and begin to self-isolate for 7 days immediately (people in the same household should also self-isolate for 14 days). People in hospital and essential workers are being given priority for tests. Residents in care homes can also be tested, whether or not they have symptoms, and anyone moving in to a care home will be tested beforehand.

Testing is most effective if it happens within 3 days of you developing symptoms. You'll need to use a long cotton bud to take a swab of the inside of your nose and the back of your throat. If you need help, someone else can do this for you. Although home-testing kits are being rolled out, most testing is currently happening at drive-through testing sites. You can apply for a test through the government website. If you know someone who needs a test but is unable to apply online, you can apply on their behalf with their permission, or they can call 119 to book a test.

There are different policies for testing in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For those who are not online, tests can be booked by calling 119 in Wales. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, call 0300 303 2713 to book a test.

A 'test and trace' system has been introduced by the government. If you have tested positive for coronavirus, the NHS will contact you to find out who you have been in close contact with recently, and where you have visited. The NHS will then contact anyone that you have been in close contact with, so that they can begin to self-isolate for 14 days. You can find out more about how this works on the government's test and trace page.

I think I should be in the ‘shielded’ group of people at very high risk (clinically extremely vulnerable) from coronavirus - what can I do?

If you have not received a letter from the NHS to inform you that you are in the clinically extremely vulnerable group, but think you should be, speak to your GP or specialist and follow the NHS advice for shielded patients. Doctors and hospitals have been asked to add more people to the list, as the NHS has not been able to identify everyone who should be on it. Speak to your doctor if you are unsure, but this applies to you if you have:

  • had an organ transplant and are receiving long term immune suppression therapy
  • certain types of cancer
  • a severe respiratory condition such as cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • a rare disease or inborn error of metabolism that significantly increases the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  • been receiving immunosuppression therapies
  • significant congenital heart disease and you are pregnant.

You should also register yourself on the gov.uk website if you might need extra help and support, even if you don't need it now. Registering for support means you can get a weekly box of basic supplies, priority access to supermarket delivery slots and help meeting your basic care needs if you need it. Have your NHS number to hand as you’ll be asked for this when you register. You should be able to find this on the letter you received.

The government have announced that from 1st August, people in the clinically extremely vulnerable group will no longer required to shield, but they will need to follow social distancing guidelines. Any food box or medicine deliveries  will also stop from the 1st August, but you can continue to receive support from the NHS volunteer responder scheme if you need it.

Can I still call or visit my GP surgery if I am unwell?

If you are unwell during this time and need to get advice from your GP, you can still call your GP surgery or contact them via their website. They can arrange for you to have a phone consultation with your GP and then, if necessary, you may be asked to visit the surgery. To keep yourself and others safe, you should not visit the surgery unless you have been advised to. Visit the NHS website for more information.

I have a health condition. Where can I go for advice or support?

If you have a health condition, like heart disease, asthma or diabetes, this can be a very worrying time. Many health helplines are still open, so if you’re concerned about managing your condition, any symptoms or staying well, you could give them a call. You may want to speak to:

Signhealth has created British Sign Language videos with coronavirus related information.

Doctors of the World have shared covid-19 advice for patients in over 20 languages which were produced in partnership with the British Red Cross, Migrant Help and Clear Voice.

There are some conditions, such as diabetes, that put people at a higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 (their condition means they are clinically vulnerable). There are other health conditions, such as severe asthma, that place people at the greatest risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 (their condition means that they are clinically extremely vulnerable). If your medical condition falls into either category, it is important to follow the latest government advice for your group.

If you have a clinical condition which puts you in the clinically extremely vulnerable groupyou should have been told by your GP or received a letter advising you of what you should do. Contact your GP if this hasn't happened.

The latest advice for people in this group can be found on the government website.

Although 111 is very busy, you can still call them for advice about any symptoms you’re experiencing and advice about where to get support.

If you’re seriously ill or injured and your life may be at risk, call 999 immediately.

What can I do to make sure my health and care preferences are known in case I become unwell?

Talk to your loved ones and tell them about your wishes in case you become unwell, and a decision about your care and treatment needs to be made on your behalf.  Tell them about what’s important to you and how you would like to be cared for. It’s important to write this down and let someone you trust know where they can find a copy. This is called an advanced statement. It isn't legally binding, which means that professionals involved in your care are not required to follow it but it does help them understand your preferences if a time comes when you’re unable to communicate this yourself.

You can also speak to your GP about this, and they can support you in coming up with a plan for your care should you become unwell. 

If you want to give someone the legal power to make decisions on your behalf, you can think about setting up a lasting power of attorney (LPA) if you haven’t already. If you decide to set one up, it may take longer than usual for your application to be processed and registered, so you may wish to also consider making an advanced statement. Read the government's guidance on making an LPA during the coronavirus outbreak. See our factsheet Managing my affairs if I become ill for more information about LPAs and advanced statements.

I’m finding it hard to cope emotionally. How can I look after my mental health?

If you feel worried or anxious about the situation, you’re not alone and there are some steps you can take to help you manage. You might like to talk to friends and family to help you stay connected or call an organisation such as Samaritans  or The Silverline  for emotional support. You can also find online resources at Anxiety UK and practical support tools such as audio guides and mood self assessments from the NHS

Spending time doing the things you enjoy, staying active, eating well and sticking to a daily routine can all help too. Different things work for different people, so take time to work out what works best for you. Mind have guidance for people about looking after their mental health and wellbeing whilst self isolating.

You can get tips on how to improve your sleep, and other resources to improve your mental wellbeing from Every Mind Matters.

If you feel your mental health has seriously been affected, talk to your GP to find out what help is available.

Why has my scheduled operation/appointment been cancelled by the NHS?

The NHS are making some changes to the way they are operating scheduled appointments over the next few months. A routine operation may be cancelled but for other treatment some people might be offered a telephone appointment instead of a face-to-face appointment. If you have an upcoming appointment, speak to your GP or healthcare team to find out if there are any changes to how you access treatment and support.

How can I stay fit and well if I can’t leave my house?

It’s important for your wellbeing to stay in touch with friends and family, by phone or Skype or Face Time. The government also advise opening your windows regularly to let in fresh air, and getting some natural sunlight where possible. Try to get outside in the garden if you have one. If this isn’t possible for you, you can find ideas for exercise you can do at home on the NHS website. Public Health England also have 10 minute video workouts you can do at home. And look out for exercise programmes on television or the radio - for example, BBC Radio 5 Live have an exercise programme aimed at helping older pepole stay active, improve their mental health and maintain independence whilst at home. Staying as active as possible, as well as keeping to a healthy, balanced diet and drinking enough water are all important to your health and wellbeing. 

Getting help at home

Should I still let carers into my home?

Yes – it’s important to keep receiving any essential help you get with washing, dressing and preparing meals, for example. Your care worker should have been given guidance about extra steps they must take to protect you, such as following hand hygiene guidance, and staying away if they show any symptoms of coronavirus. They should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as aprons, gloves, fluid-repellent surgical masks and eye protection where necessary, in line with government guidance. This will also help to protect them if you are showing any signs of coronavirus. 

My carer can’t visit because they’re self-isolating – what should I do?

If your care is arranged through an agency, the agency should send a different care worker to support you. Call the agency if this hasn’t happened.

Councils have wide powers to assist residents with care needs once they are aware of their situation. They can respond very quickly where required. If your care was arranged through adult social services at your local council, you can call the council if there are any problems with your care.

If you use council-arranged direct payments to fund a personal assistant and they can’t visit, call the local council to tell them straight away. They have a duty to ensure your needs are met. This could involve putting an interim arrangement in place until your personal assistant is able to resume their caring role.    

If it’s a friend or relative who usually provides your care, and you’re not able to cope without their support, contact adult social services at your local council to ask for an urgent care needs assessment. You can find their details at gov.uk/apply-needs-assessment-social-services. Government guidance also advises that you contact your council to make a contingency plan, if you have concerns about your future care and support arrangements.

Should I let my cleaner/maintenance worker into my home?

Government guidance says that cleaners and other trades people can now work in people's homes, unless:

  • You or they have symptoms of coronavirus, even mild, or had them within the past 7 days
  • You are self-isolating
  • You are being shielded (because you are clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus)

If a tradesperson does come in to your home, make sure you maintain a distance of 2 metres (3 steps) from each other, and follow the government's safe working guidance.

Getting shopping and paying bills

What if I can’t pay my gas or electricity bills or top up my pre-paid meter, and have no one to help me?

If you can’t top up your pre-paid gas or electricity meters, or afford to pay an energy bill, contact your energy supplier straightaway. They should have a range of support in place. For example, some suppliers are posting cards loaded with emergency credit or adding discretionary credit directly to your meter. You can find out more on the Ofgem website.

If you have a smart pre-payment meter, you should be able to top-up using an app, online or by phone. Your credit will be sent automatically to your meter.

If you’re unable to deal with your supplier on your own or you can’t get through to them, call the  Citizens Advice consumer helpline (0808 223 1133) and ask to be referred to their Extra Help Unit.

How can I get my food and prescriptions if I must self-isolate or shield?

If you don’t have friends, family or neighbours who can support you to get shopping and other essentials, think about using online shopping and prescription delivery services where possible. Anyone making deliveries should leave them on the doorstep or outside.

If you live in England and received an NHS letter and/or SMS message because you have a medical condition that puts you at very high risk of severe illness from coronavirus, you can register for extra support. This could include help with getting food, other essential deliveries and care. You can register online or call 0800 028 8327. If you’re not sure if you or a person you support are ‘extremely vulnerable’, you can still register anyway.

You can also call 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 8pm to request support from an NHS Volunteer Responder. A friend or family member, your GP, community pharmacist, or any other health or local government official can also refer you. An NHS volunteer responder can help with things like prescription collection, shopping, lifts to appointments or even provide a friendly chat over the phone.

Many charities and local community groups are working hard to try and support people who are having to self-isolate.  Contact your local council to find out about support in your area, or your local Age UK. You could also try the government's online service to help people to find the support they need.

If someone calls or visits you claiming to represent an organisation that wants to help you, ask for their name. Look up the organisation's telephone number yourself and then call the organisation directly to check that they are who they say they are. Do this before you agree to anything. It's a good idea to use a door chain when answering the door to people you don't know. Once you're happy to accept someone's help, agree in advance how you're going to pay. Never give your bank card or bank details out to anyone, and ask for receipts for everything, to avoid misunderstandings.

In Scotland, you can order free weekly deliveries of basic food and essential supplies, either through the SMS shielding service or your local authority helpline if you don’t have a mobile phone. If you’re vulnerable but not in the shielding group, you can access support from a separate helpline – 0800 111 4000. For details of where you can get additional support, visit Ready Scotland.

In Wales, if you're shielding, you should have received a letter from the Welsh government providing details of how you can get support with food and essentials. You can request free weekly food box deliveries by contacting the number provided on the letter.

In Northern Ireland, if you’re extremely vulnerable or you’re vulnerable and don’t have a support network, you can get weekly food box deliveries. If you think you qualify, call the COVID 19 Community helpline  - 0808 802 0020. For local voluntary help, visit CommunityNI.

What if I can’t get an online delivery slot with a supermarket?

Although supermarkets are doing their best to increase food deliveries, many people are struggling to get an online delivery slot. This is particularly difficult for people who are vulnerable, older and/or self-isolating. You may find it helpful to look at our tips for getting food and other essentials delivered.

You may also wish to complain to a supermarket. Ask the supermarket for a copy of its complaints procedure and follow this where possible. Try to make the complaint in writing and explain if you think you’ve been discriminated against because of your age or disability. Let the supermarket know what you’d like them to do about your issue(s). You can contact Citizens Advice consumer helpline (0808 223 1133) for more advice on how to complain.

How should I pay someone back if they bought me food or other essentials?

If you are self-isolating and need to pay someone for food or other deliveries, but don’t have online banking or enough cash, you may want to pay them by bank transfer. Never give your bank card or bank details to anyone.

If you are not registered for telephone banking, call your bank and ask them to help you set it up. The Money Advice Service offers guidance about making bank transfers.

You can also use a cheque to pay someone if they accept it. If you don’t have a cheque book, call your bank and they should issue one free of charge.

Many supermarkets, including Asda, Waitrose, M&S, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons allow you to order an e-gift card online or over the phone. Depending on the scheme, you will be sent a barcode or email that a friend, family member or volunteer doing your shopping in store can present at the checkout. Some schemes will send the gift card straight to the person doing the shopping.

You may also be able to use the Post Office Payout Now service to access cash without going outside. Contact your bank, credit union or building society first to see if they offer this service. If they do, you can send a unique reference code by text, email or post to a person that you trust. They can take the code to any Post Office branch where it will be scanned in return for cash (the amount is set by you).

However you pay someone, always ask for receipts to avoid misunderstandings.

How can I get access to cash if I can’t leave the house?

Your bank, credit union, or the Post Office may be offering a cash delivery service, or third-party cash withdrawals to people who are self-isolating.

Which? has more information about what the different banking providers are currently offering to their customers, or you can contact your provider directly for support.

Protecting yourself from coronavirus (COVID-19)

Can the virus be transmitted on money, food packaging or post?

Surfaces and objects can become contaminated if an infected person transfers droplets by sneezing, coughing or breathing out. You can catch the virus if you touch a contaminated object or surface and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth before you have washed your hands.

At the moment, it’s not clear how long the virus survives on contaminated surfaces, but it could be anything from a few hours to several days. The World Health Organization (WHO) have advised that the risk of catching the virus from post or delivery packages is low.

Do I need to disinfect packaging or other deliveries?

There’s currently no official recommendations from the government or WHO to suggest that this is necessary. If you’re worried because you need to touch or handle items or surfaces that other people have come into contact with, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of infection.  For example, if you think a surface may be contaminated, clean it with a disinfectant like bleach. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitiser gel after handling shopping or touching surfaces that may be contaminated. Remember to also avoid touching your eyes, mouth and nose.

Supporting others

I am caring for someone and need a break. What can I do about this?

The respite (alternative) care services which are usually available for the person you care for may not be able to support you at this time. If you need a break from caring and don’t have any friends or family who are able to give immediate help in providing care, you can contact your local council to ask for some support. If friends or relatives step in to provide care on your behalf, it is important that they follow the guidelines set out in the Stay at home guidance and the staying alert and safe social distancing guidance

If you or the person you care for are in the clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) group, from 6 July, you are able to form a 'support bubble' with another household. People in a support bubble can go into each other’s homes as normal, without having to stay 2 metres apart.  

It is a good idea at this time to put in place (or review) an emergency plan with the person you care for, so that they would continue to get appropriate care and support if you were not able to provide care for them. You can find more information in the government guidance for people who provide unpaid care to family or friends.

For emotional or practical support as a carer, you can also contact Carers UK on 0808 808 7777 or by emailing advice@carersuk.org.

How can I support my older relative if they are self-isolating?

Think about delivering food and other essentials, such as prescriptions. Only drop off essentials if you are well yourself, and ensure you follow good hygiene practices, as explained on the NHS website. Leave supplies on the doorstep instead of going inside.

You could also help them in other ways, such as sending books, magazines or films. If they’re online, you could play games such as chess or Scrabble with them or introduce them to streaming services. Call them regularly. Encourage them to stay active at home and keep in touch with friends who are also self-isolating and might need some support.

Can I visit someone in a care home or hospital?

Previously, you were only allowed to visit someone in hospital under certain circumstances. For example, if you were visiting a close family member who was receiving end-of-life care. On the 5th June, NHS England updated their guidance to change the rules around who can visit someone in hospital. This latest change means that each hospital can set their own visiting rules, to limit the risk of infection and keep everyone safe. Check with the ward nurse or manager about the hospital’s visiting arrangements. If you do visit someone in hospital, you must wear a face covering at all times, and follow any other guidance you are given by the hospital about the number of visitors allowed, and social distancing whilst visiting someone, for example. You should not visit someone in hospital if you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus or if you’ve been told you need to self-isolate.

If you are thinking about visiting someone in a care home, the government advice is that people should not visit except in necessary situations such as end of life.  If you think you have an important reason to visit someone in a care home, contact the care home first and ask them to consider allowing your visit.

Everyone is encouraged to use alternative ways of keeping in touch with loved ones where possible, such as using phone or video calls. You can also speak to the care home or hospital to find out if they have set up any other arrangements to help you keep in touch.

How can I support older people in my community who are self-isolating?

Visit our Advice for volunteers page for ideas, and things to think about to keep yourself and the local community safe.

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