People with compromised immune systems who are continuing to shield because of the risk Covid-19 poses to them are pleading for urgent mental health support.
Despite being vaccinated against Covid, many immunosuppressed patients, of which there are around 500,000 in the UK, fail to produce sufficient antibodies against the virus.
At the start of the pandemic they were advised to shield at home and with many about to face their fourth year of doing so, because of a lack of effective preventative treatments, it is taking a toll on their mental health.
Gareth Richards, 38, from Cardiff, Wales, who was identified as at high risk from Covid because of the medication he takes to manage ulcerative colitis, told i he feels as though his life is on hold.
Mr Richards, who is currently out of work because of his Covid risk, said he has not socialised in-person with friends for two years, avoids indoor public spaces and has not travelled on a train or bus for 18 months. He feels more at risk now that most Covid safety precautions such as social distancing and mandatory mask-wearing have been axed.
“I haven’t been able to move forward since and it’s almost three years now,” Mr Richards said.
He added: “I’ve just lost all my confidence basically. Society and being out in public felt safer for me back in maybe June 2021 when we had the lockdowns because people were still social distancing, they were still wearing masks, the general public was still testing if they felt unwell to see if it was Covid. But now all of that’s gone and people walk around with Covid, or maybe they don’t even know if it’s Covid, and no one wears masks in public and no social distancing. Society feels more dangerous for me now.”
Mr Richards who said he had depression before the pandemic, which he described as manageable, said it had got worse since the lockdowns.
He claims he has struggled to get support from NHS mental health services and that he had been turned away because he was shielding.
While Mr Richards has been prescribed anti-depressants, he said he has not been given access to any regular therapy services.
“I’ve not been offered any therapy or anything like that… because they say because I’m having to shield and lead an extremely restricted life there’s no help they can give me.”
Mr Richards said he would feel able to live a more normal life if Covid treatments for the immunosupressed were made available quicker.
“[I would like] A good preventative, prophylactic drug like Evusheld or when the next version of it comes along… and when that version comes out, for there not to be a year long delay in making a decision like they did with the original Evusheld,” he added. “I’m absolutely livid and furious with the Government over the way that they have handled, or not handled, effectively protecting us.”
While the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued draft guidance to make three medicines available on the NHS for treating Covid-19 in adults, there are concerns from charities such as Kidney Care UK over the current gaps in treatment.
Kidney disease and transplant patients are among those who are at a higher risk of severe Covid.
Fiona Loud, policy director at Kidney Care UK, said: “The impact of kidney disease itself frequently leads to anxiety and depression for many of those affected; this has been made worse by the isolation of the pandemic. Our patient surveys consistently show that concern and uncertainty about Covid-19 remains, with over 90 per cent respondents in a recent poll telling us it continues to affect their lives.
“Whether shielding or simply living a life ‘less normal’, the pandemic hangs over many of us and, at the start of the fourth year with the threat of Covid-19, unless we see a sincere and determined effort to protect people who remain at risk, the mental health impact will continue. Thousands of people with kidney disease cannot simply ‘live with Covid’ like the rest of the population; kidney patients deserve better.”
i contacted Cardiff and Vale University Health Board for comment and the Department of Health for comment.